Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxin metabolites produced by numerous molds. There are over 300 mycotoxins that occur in food and feed, 20 of which occur at levels that pose safety concerns. Consequently, hundreds of countries have regulations regarding the levels of mycotoxins in food and feed. Aflatoxins, a class of mycotoxins, are of greatest concern due to their prevalence.

In the dairy industry, Aflatoxin M1 poses extra special challenges. Since aflatoxins are carcinogenic to animals and potentially humans, they are closely monitored throughout the supply chain. Each year, aflatoxins have a negative economic impact on agriculture, resulting in devastating damage to crops and adverse health effects in livestock. Read on to learn more about one of the most closely monitored aflatoxins by dairy farmers and the dairy industry at large.

Aflatoxin M1 Is a Metabolite of Aflatoxin B1
Aflatoxin B1, produced by Aspergillus molds, is metabolized into aflatoxin M1 in ruminants. Aflatoxin B1 sources include corn, peanuts, and cottonseed. When a lactating cow consumes feed with high level of aflatoxins, they will metabolize the aflatoxin B1 into M1 and excrete it in urine and milk.

Certain Weather Conditions Are Favorable to Aflatoxins
Mycotoxins and aflatoxins are a constant concern for agriculture. Some seasons and weather conditions put the industry on high alert. Conditions ideal for aflatoxin formation include high temperatures, high humidity and drought. These conditions can be devastating in corn producing states, which, in turn, could lead to issues in the feed supply of dairy farmers.

Aflatoxin M1 Can Lead to Chronic Issues in Dairy Cattle
Due to modern farming techniques in the US and other developed countries, mycotoxin toxicity or mycotoxicosis, is generally not an issue. Normally, ruminant animals are insensitive to aflatoxin exposure with the exception of lactating and young animals. With aflatoxin exposure, chronic problems, which may be difficult to observe and treat, may present themselves. Reduced growth, lowered reproductive rates, reduced milk yields, lethargy and digestive issues are among the more common problems that may occur.

Loss to Farmers and Industry Can Be Substantial
Aflatoxins have proven to be a detriment to the agricultural economy with devastating effects throughout the supply chain. Many loads of corn have been rejected at grain elevators due to unsafe aflatoxin levels. Processors have been known to dump tankers of milk when milk contamination levels exceeded safe levels of aflatoxin M1 (0.5ppb US FDA).

Difficult to Detect
Most mycotoxins and aflatoxins of concern are, in general, relatively resistant to most forms of food and feed processing. Adding to this dilemma, contamination in crops and commodities are not easy to detect for several reasons. First and foremost, mycotoxins are unevenly distributed within grains and feed. There are several analytical approaches to detect for mycotoxins and aflatoxins. Fast and simple testing using ELISA methods are commercially available. These methods are best for farmers or fast and bulk screening because they are easier to perform and relatively inexpensive. More reliable methods include high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) typically performed by commercial laboratories.

Read our related blog article, “Drought Conditions Spur Mycotoxin Contamination Concerns

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