The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is weighing new proposals for tightening food safety rules concerning mycotoxins after recent a series of recent recalls for pet and livestock feed in the United States for a corn-based toxic.
"With the Food Safety Modernization Act coming into play into the grain industry, we are going to be talking about these things a lot more often," said Charles Hurburgh, a grain quality specialist for Iowa State University.
The Act, signed into law this year, shifts the focus of federal regulators away from responding to food contamination to preventing it.
Pet food is a billion-dollar grain-based business while livestock feed, largely based on corn and soybeans, accounts for the primary use of the two biggest row crops in the U.S.
Recalls because of mycotoxins
But grains are degraded by crop diseases, including the Aspergillus fungus on corn, which in dry hot growing seasons like 2011 often produces aflatoxin, a carcinogen.
Aflatoxin contamination has prompted a series of pet food and livestock feed recalls this month, including dog, poultry and calf feed from a Cargill. Proctor and Gamble also recalled some of its Iams puppy food, and Advanced Animal Nutrition recalled its Dog Power food.
The FDA standard for aflatoxin in food for human consumption and pet food is 20 parts per billion. "That's equivalent to seven kernels in a railcar," Hurburgh said.
More surveillance, more recalls
Crop specialists said they are not surprised by the recalls as the fungus causing aflatoxin was prevalent this summer, especially in southern corn fields stressed by heat and drought.
"What's happening with the Food Safety Modernization Act is we're seeing an increase in incidents of reporting because there is more surveillance. With more surveillance we are going to get more positives," said Greg Aldrich, president of feed consultancy Pet Food and Ingredient Technology.
"Livestock feed, pet food and human food companies have already begun to implement everything that is going to be part of the law," said Aldrich, who also teaches grain and animal science at Kansas State University.
Aldrich and other scientists said they will not be surprised to see more recalls given the summer crop stress.