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New tests shed light on how mycotoxins contaminate feed

Increased testing of animal feed has begun to reveal new ways in which mycotoxins work together to sicken animals.


Increased access to technology is giving scientists new insight into how mycotoxins contaminate feed and make animals sick.

High-resolution testing has revealed myriad new ways that mycotoxin contamination affects animal health, Trevor Smith, an adjunct professor in the animal biosciences department at the University of Guelph, said during an interview at the 2019 International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta. In one recent study, he said, tests detected 37 different mycotoxins in Italian-grown corn; at least seven toxins were present in all collected samples.

The tests shed light on how mycotoxins in animal feed affect herd health. The presence of multiple mycotoxins with similar health effects can have an additive effect. For example, when feed is contaminated by more than one compound known to suppress the immune system, the impact of each mycotoxin builds on the others, increasing the harm to the animal.

“Even though they are present in small amounts,” Smith said, “added together, the effect could be very significant and negative with respect to herd health.”

Some mycotoxins may also have a synergistic effect, with one compound promoting the toxicity of another.

The increased availability of  a technology called LC-MS/MS, liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry, has enabled researchers to run extremely sensitive mycotoxin tests capable of identifying several hundred compounds simultaneously, Smith said. Unlike single-toxin tests, these broad-spectrum surveys have revealed the frequency with which animal feeds are contaminated by small qualities of multiple mycotoxins.

The results, Smith said, “allow us to understand why animals sometimes respond in a more severe manner than we would expect based on individual toxin analysis.”

A report on the prevalence of mycotoxins in animal feed, released this year by food safety diagnostic firm Romer Labs and Biomin, raised similar concerns. The report highlighted several “emerging” mycotoxins that new research has recently added to the growing list of compounds known to affect animal health.

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