last update:6 Aug 2012

Mycotoxins, underestimated?

Dick Ziggers
In the eighties and nineties of the last century mycotoxins were not really considered a threat, merely because the detection methods were not sufficient enough to track them. Nowadays however these secondary metabolites of various fungi and moulds have become an inextricabe part of animal nutrition.

Whether is has to do with the larger occurrence or better detection methods it is a problem in the whole animal feed industry and on a global scale. It is clearly recognised that these toxins, when present in raw materials and feeds, have clear detrimental effects on animal health and performance.
Several companies gain significant business from combating mycotoxins with binders and enzymes. One of the pioneers in this field is Biomin from Austria, which recently held its 4th World Nutrition Forum in Salzburg, the town of the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. At this symposium Felecia Wu of the University of Pittsburgh (USA) presented an interesting talk on the economic impact of mycotoxins in animal feed.
Wu distinguishes two different categories of economic losses that apply regarding mycotoxins in animal feed. The first is direct market losses for feeds that are rejected, because the mycotoxin levels are too high for animal consumption, based on existing regulations for maximum allowable levels in animal feed. (Interesting is that there is quite a difference in these levels between European and American maximum tolerable levels.) The second is indirect market losses caused by animals consuming mycotoxins in their feed that may cause a variety of adverse health effects, which would translate to losses to producers.
Millions of dollars
Analysis of the US market revealed that as a result of mycotoxin contamination some US$342 million was lost due to rejected feedstuffs. Animal health losses due to mycotoxin intoxication were estimated at another $8.4 million. For maize alone Wu estimated the annual costs in the US to be $163 million for aflatoxin-related losses, $40 million for fumonisin-related losses, and $52 million for DON-related losses. In less developed countries the economic losses are at the same or at higher levels, especially in the warmer, more humid Asian countries. The losses in these countries are more heavily weighted toward direct animal health effects rather than rejected feedstuffs.
Future risks
In terms of future risks Wu recognises the increased use of ethanol co-products such as DDGS in animal feeds as an important factor to take into account. DDGS contain even higher levels of mycotoxins than the original grain, due to the ‘condensing’ effect of ethanol distilling. Mycotoxins are not affected by the process and thus after the starch is removed from the corn to make ethanol the same volume of mycotoxins remains in a smaller volume of co-products. Wu also stated that “in the near future, there is reason to believe that increased climate variability associated with climate change trends may result in higher pre-harvest levels of mycotoxins in grains worldwide.”
All-in-all it is clear that mycotoxins have evolved from an underestimated and almost undetectable risk to a clear and present danger to animal and human health. Fortunately many companies have also recognised this threat and are well underway to combat this menace of the feed industry.

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