Drought could lead to increased levels of aflatoxin

This summer’s drought has devastated much of what was supposed to be a record corn crop for the U.S.

But it’s not just heat and lack of water that can cause problems for corn farmers; the recent high temperatures and dry conditions also can lead to the growth of certain types of aflatoxin-producing fungus.

Aflatoxin, a natural toxin that is a known carcinogen, is produced by the fungi Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus. It favors hot, dry weather, such as this summer’s drought.

The problem occurs when Aspergillus infiltrates corn kernels through cracks caused by the drought or other damage and “eats” the starch inside of a corn kernel. It then produces aflatoxin, according to an article from agronomy expert James Jarman.

In addition to being carcinogenic, ingestion of excessive amounts of the toxin can cause chronic health problems in animals, liver damage, decreased egg and milk production, immune suppression and interfere with reproductive efficiency.

Both Jarman’s article and this one from Cattle Network have several suggestions on how to mitigate contamination, including testing.

Here’s some quick, need-to-know information from Neogen regarding testing for aflatoxin.

  • Since it is carcinogenic, the FDA has issued regulatory levels for aflatoxin in food for human and animal consumption.
    • For humans: 20 ppb in all foods except milk
    • All animal species: 20 ppb in all feed except for the below exceptions:
      • Breeding cattle, breeding swine and mature poultry: 100 ppb in corn
      • Finishing swine (> 100 lbs.): 200 ppb in corn
      • Finishing beef cattle: 300 ppb in corn
      • Finishing beef cattle, swine and poultry: 300 ppb in cottonseed meal
      • The European Union also has regulations for aflatoxin:
        • Groundnuts subject to sorting and treatment prior to human consumption: 15 ppb
        • Dried fruit, corn and nuts subject to sorting and treatment prior to human consumption, and spices: 10 ppb
        • Groundnuts and nuts, dried fruit for direct human consumption: 4 ppb
        • Cereals and products derived from cereals unless otherwise listed: 4 ppb
        • Baby food and cereals intended for infants: 0.1 ppb
  • It is important to get a representative sample when testing for aflatoxin, which often is difficult to achieve given the size of the carrier. See Neogen’s Mycotoxin Handbook for more details.

For a list of Neogen’s aflatoxin testing products, click here.

Check out the latest mycotoxin update from our milling and grain division on our YouTube channel here.

For information regarding crop insurance for aflatoxin, click here.


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