Business & Policy
FROM THE EDITOR: January 2007
By Kristy Nudds
Mycotoxins – How Much Do We Know?
It’s a well-known fact to those working within the livestock industry that mycotoxins are dangerous to swine. The mycotoxin mantra has always been “don’t feed it to the pigs,” but a new mantra is evolving – “don’t feed it to the birds,” or cows, or humans for that matter.
As I am writing this, it’s mid-December and much of the corn has been harvested in my neck of the woods. In the past few weeks the huge standing pools of water that collected in the fields have dried off and it’s been safe enough for farmers to get out on the fields.
But from late October to mid-November, the amount of corn still left unharvested in the fields, a process delayed for weeks by the unusually soggy weather, was a growing concern. Wet conditions are not exactly ideal for maintaining the nutritional quality of grains.
Although yields have been good, quality is questionable. Mycotoxins resulting from fungal growth under wet conditions could potentially be present in higher than normal amounts, which has significant implications for livestock producers.
What to do with a necessary feedstock that’s moldy? Typical practice is to divert it from hogs and feed it instead to poultry, cattle, and other small ruminants. These animals can handle it without too many problems, right?
Wrong, according to mycotoxin expert Dr. Trevor Smith from the University of Guelph (see article on page 6). Mycotoxin research is still evolving and much is still to be learned with respect to its effect on animal health and performance. But Smith and his colleagues have been ahead of the curve with poultry mycotoxin research and have determined that although birds may not show the sudden and obvious physical symptoms associated with mycotoxins as hogs display, significant effects on production can still result.
Also troublesome is the fact that mycotoxins are hard to measure. Some can be bound up with other molecules and avoid detection with current tests, making it difficult to know how much is truly present. Currently, only a few laboratories worldwide are capable of conducting these tests, which are very costly and time consuming.
As revealed at the 4th World Mycotoxin Forum held in November in Cincinnati, Ohio, as the effects of mycotoxins on animals become more known, both sampling and testing methods require harmonization worldwide. The connection between science and regulation must be made, and all countries need to be on the same page. In light of increased global grain trading, without this it will be nearly impossible to determine the true amount and prevention strategies may be hindered.
Something I think is noteworthy and worth much exploration is how mycotoxins will affect the quality of feedstuffs resulting from distiller’s grains (DDG). With the increased interest and push for ethanol production from corn, will this have an effect on DDS quality?
Although numerous studies are examining the potential of DDS from ethanol for poultry, very little has been done on the quality of DDG from contaminated corn. And the few studies that have been done have shown that DDG can have as much as three times the mycotoxins of the original contaminated grain. Yikes!