[INTERVIEW] BIOMIN Brings Mycofix® to EU Poultry and Looks Into the Future of Mycotoxin Control Market

Verena Starkl, Mycotoxin Risk Management Product Manager

As important elements of the fifth generation of BIOMIN’s Mycofix®, the two ingredients are key to the mycotoxin biotransformation approach in which the company claims leadership. In the words of Verena Starkl, Mycotoxin Risk Management Product Manager, “Mycofix® contains the only components authorized in the European Union for their safety and effectiveness in reducing of the mycotoxin contamination of feed.” Hoping to learn more about BIOMIN’s vision for the future of mycotoxin management, Feedinfo News Service sat down with Ms. Starkl for a wide-ranging discussion on both the technological innovations and the market opportunities for mycotoxin deactivation.

[Feedinfo News Service] How important do you estimate the avian market for Mycofix® to be? What are your objectives for the growth of this product?

[Verena Starkl] A robust mycotoxin risk management solution is definitely relevant to poultry and minor species that are often even more sensitive to the effects of mycotoxins. Awareness of mycotoxin-related issues for birds has risen in the past few years—in part due to scientific research that has revealed that mycotoxins such as deoxynivalenol and fumonisins disrupt gut integrity and act as predisposing factors for various diseases, including necrotic enteritis.

We could imagine that the market covers a large majority of layers and breeders —as these are typically higher value birds with a longer lifecycle— so chronic low dose exposure more negatively affects them, particularly as they age. For broilers, where the value is lower and lifecycle is shorter, these factors are less prominent. However, the trends to reduce or remove antibiotics from production (e.g. antibiotic-free) and in favor of slower growing go hand in hand with a greater incidence of disease and greater susceptibility to the effects of mycotoxins. So preventing mycotoxins from harming gut health and performance matters there as well.

Mycofix® is already the top-selling mycotoxin product globally, and we expect to see growth in many areas, including poultry, swine, ruminants and aquaculture sectors, as well as across geographies going forward.

[Feedinfo News Service] What other markets are you pursuing authorization in currently? What are the next steps for the Mycofix® product range as a whole?

[Verena Starkl] Mycofix® is available for sale in more than 100 countries globally. FUMzyme® and Biomin® BBSH 797 have already been registered in most of those markets. The focus of our research and development efforts is to identify the mycotoxins that pose the greatest challenge to our clients, often seen through fertility or growth performance issues, for example, and then develop the most effective solutions possible. There are a number of mycotoxins that disrupt efficient animal production for which adsorption is not a sufficient solution. That means continuing our groundbreaking work on biotransformation strategies through the development of additional specific enzymes.

One area that we are currently exploring is how to deal with high heat treatment of feeds. Products that use biologically active components e.g. for biotransformation have been shown to retain their effectiveness during processing up to 95°C. This is fine for pelleting, but poses an obstacle when it comes to extrusion, which entails thermally treating feed at temperatures above 100°C. In order to meet the needs of markets where extrusion is commonplace, we are exploring ways to extend the application of Mycofix® post-extrusion.

[Feedinfo News Service] How does the use of mycotoxin control solutions vary by species (i.e. is the use of these solutions much more common in swine, in poultry, etc.)? In which segments of the market do you see the greatest potential for growth?

[Verena Starkl] Across species, we can observe a tendency in the market to give priority to higher-value and breeding animals when it comes to mycotoxin protection. There are reasons for this. Chronic, low dose exposure to mycotoxins can more negatively affect animals with longer life cycles. Also, certain mycotoxins, e.g. zearalenone, cause fertility problems. I would point out that young animals are often more sensitive to the effects of mycotoxins—so they should not be overlooked. In addition, higher performing animals may be more likely to be hampered by antinutritional factors such as mycotoxins.

It is well established that pigs are the most sensitive livestock species when it comes to mycotoxins. Though the application of mycotoxin deactivators in fatteners is less common than for sows, piglets, etc., there are reasons for this to change. Research has shown that pigs fed fumonisins one week prior encounter more severe impacts from Pasteurella e.g. worse coughing. Also, mycotoxins can cause fatteners to produce less meat or develop pulmonary edema.

Layers and breeders are typically a top priority in poultry. Historically, the focus in the ruminants sector has been on dairy and aflatoxins—particularly in milk where levels are strictly controlled. However, aflatoxins are neither the most commonly occurring nor the only mycotoxins that negatively affect ruminants. Deoxynivalenol (aka vomitoxin) can impair milk production. Zearalenone can wreak havoc on fertility. Mycotoxins play a role in common problems such as mastitis and laminitis. An effective mycotoxin solution can make a real difference in all of these cases.

[Feedinfo News Service] If I’ve understood correctly, Biomin® BBSH 797 was authorized for use in swine in 2013, and FUMzyme® followed a year later. Are the technical challenges different across various species, or is the technology underpinning these products more or less the same? Why did the poultry authorization follow so far after the swine authorization?

[Verena Starkl] The technology itself does not change. As with any innovation, priorities must be set as you introduce it to the market. Pigs are the most sensitive to mycotoxins, so in the interest of addressing our clients most pressing need we pursued authorization in swine first. Applying for registration in the category of technological additives and the functional group (m) for the reduction of the contamination of feed by mycotoxins is challenging and the requirements for a successful authorization are quite demanding. Multiple efficacy studies are submitted, and safety studies in particular can be time-consuming e.g. a 90-day oral toxicity study.

Once we had received the authorizations for pigs, we started with authorizations for poultry. BIOMIN is the only company that has obtained an authorization for mycotoxin deactivation in the European Union—and we’ve done so for 3 components of Mycofix®. These attest to proven safety and effectiveness that –so far— is unmatched. We’re pleased to deliver the highest quality, most innovative product to customers.

[Feedinfo News Service] Several markets, namely the US, are seriously clamping down on antibiotics use in production animals. As this happens, have you seen corresponding interest in mycotoxin solutions as a way to promote the animal’s overall health status or eliminate drags on performance? How important is this development for mycotoxin neutralization sales?

[Verena Starkl] The trend towards antibiotic reduction has brought complications wrought by mycotoxin contamination to the fore for many producers. Mycotoxin risk management is clearly an important part of antibiotic-free feeding. We know that mycotoxins are oftentimes a cofactor and even a precursor in the development of pre-disposing factors to many bacterial and viral diseases, that they interfere with vaccine efficacy resulting in channeling and they sap energy that could otherwise be used for performance. Fumonisins and deoxynivalenol make the gut more permeable and allow more pathogens to pass through this natural barrier, increasing the probability and severity of diseases. At BIOMIN, we offer a full suite of solutions to support mycotoxin risk management and gut performance, along with on-site support —all of which provides our clients with a custom-fit way to meet their antibiotic reduction objective.

Correlating with the increasing prevalence of mycotoxins we see from our monitoring program, we encounter increased reporting of their negative effects from the industry across all types of production, from breeders to broilers. This complicates things for producers at a time when they are focusing on the complete removal of antibiotics (no antibiotics ever) as mycotoxins contribute to many of the disease outbreaks.

[Feedinfo News Service] Consumer preferences are increasingly shifting the goal posts for animal producers, inspiring new practices and animal production systems. What role can mycotoxin protection play in meeting these new expectations?

[Verena Starkl] Food and feed safety is an ever-present concern. Since mycotoxins can cause a variety of severe symptoms including a leaky gut that allows pathogens to pass into the circulatory system and even death, the protection of gut integrity has a positive effect when it comes to less suffering and higher animal welfare. Mycofix® plays a key role in improving feed quality. By preventing the harm from mycotoxins, animals remain efficient, which results in a lower environmental footprint. So there are connections between Mycofix® and meeting consumer preferences.

The effects of mycotoxins are always more strongly expressed when additional stress factors are present—so it is worth considering applying a mycotoxin risk management solution when introducing changes to a system that may create stress for animals.

[Feedinfo News Service] How has the demand for mycotoxin control solutions held up in the face of economic recession in countries such as Brazil, or in sectors such as dairy where prices are low? Compared with other elements of your portfolio, have you found that mycotoxin solutions are more or less sensitive to the ups and downs of the economic cycle?

[Verena Starkl] It may seem counterintuitive, but there is a clear logic to investing in a feed additive such as Mycofix® during a ‘down’ market. Mycofix® has a 25-year history, and the return on investment (ROI) that our clients achieve is what keeps us going. If milk, egg or meat prices fall and you remove the mycotoxin deactivator, you have essentially lowered the efficiency of your animals—and are therefore losing more money than if you had kept the additive in the diets.

The logic holds in ‘up’ markets when milk, egg or meat prices rise: keeping mycotoxins at bay should improve efficiency and further protect your margins. Interestingly, economic recession is not the biggest factor in the demand for mycotoxin deactivation solutions.

In general, the mycotoxin contamination levels of crops –reported in the BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey– is a key driver of demand. Some producers react to occurrence data or timely detection results of their own feed ingredients. In countries like Brazil, regular preventive application of an ‘anti-mycotoxin’ additive, as they call them, is standard.

[Feedinfo News Service] As interest in mycotoxin solutions grows worldwide, how is BIOMIN adapting their production network?

[Verena Starkl] We continue to grow our capacity in order to meet demand. We have recently stepped up activity at several production sites worldwide. Mycofix® production sites are located in Europe, Asia, Central and South America in order to ensure prompt, steady delivery to customers globally. Furthermore, we will be announcing a new production site that will double our global capacity to produce Mycofix® –and this reflects our expectations for strong growth going forward.

[Feedinfo News Service] BIOMIN has long championed a broad-spectrum approach to mycotoxin treatments, in order to account for the variety of mycotoxins which could have entered feed through different ingredients or different stages in handling, masked mycotoxins, etc., while others are beginning to promote a more targeted approach. Do you remain convinced that your approach is correct?

[Verena Starkl] Science supports the combination of strategies that Mycofix® delivers in its 3-part mode of action. For polar mycotoxins, e.g. aflatoxins, adsorption using a quality binder that also binds endotoxins makes sense. Binding is less effective for non-polar mycotoxins, and that is where irreversible biotransformation of fumonisins and trichothecenes comes into play. For the remainder, you support animals’ immune systems with a bioprotection mix of plant and algae extracts.

Based on data from the BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey —the longest-running and most comprehensive source of information on mycotoxin occurrence— we have seen that contamination by one single mycotoxin is incredibly rare. In the field, we always face multi-mycotoxin contaminations in raw materials and in the final diets. Therefore, broad spectrum protection is often the best approach.

Targeted strategies also have a role. Within the Mycofix® product line, we have been offering customers targeted versions of Mycofix® for the past 20 years. These are adapted to fit breeding animals, non-breeding animals facing a multi-mycotoxin challenge, an aflatoxin/fumonisin challenge, etc. with dosage recommendations that take into account species and production stage.

Our approach is to create a broad toolkit of innovative, proprietary strategies that provides the greatest number of possibilities when it comes to tailor-made solutions with on-site customer support. Many customers find that preventive use is the best fit for them—given that the profile of a mycotoxin challenge can shift from one day to the next. Those who have tried a ‘timing’ approach to application –i.e. applying in line with the fluctuation in contamination levels– have been largely unsuccessful, and they tend to quickly return to preventive use.

We encourage clients to test feed ingredients and finished feeds regularly for mycotoxin contamination—though it is important to be realistic about the outcome that delivers. Testing cannot compensate for sampling error or the presence of masked mycotoxins that are undetected by conventional tests. Once ingested, masked mycotoxins are cleaved in the animal’s gastrointestinal tract and then have the potential to cause harm. That is why we use state-of-the-art liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) –commercially known as Spectrum 380®– that can help farmers to understand mycotoxin-related situations that they encounter in the field that are not readily revealed by traditional techniques.

So, we see room to meet both the market demands for complete solutions and tailored strategies using the most innovative technologies available.

[Feedinfo News Service] BIOMIN argues that deoxynivalenol, fumonisins, and especially the two in combination are “unsafe at any level.” Can you give a bit more color to that claim?

[Verena Starkl] In 1984 Professor Pat Hamilton at North Carolina State University published a paper entitled “Determining Safe Levels of Mycotoxins” which stated that “the prudent person would assume there is no truly safe level and that increasing levels of mycotoxins carry increasing risk.”

Today, we know that the potential threat starts with mycotoxin analysis: mycotoxins always occur in hotspots and this makes it difficult to get a testing result that is 100% correct. A rapid test kit is commonly used to make a decision within minutes whether or not to accept an arriving batch of raw materials—it can never guarantee the certainty of a non-detection. A ‘clean’ test results does not mean that the feed is safe: it can mean that you just didn´t find the mycotoxins in there due to sampling error.

It is also important to recognize that the sensitivity of the animal to mycotoxins even within a species depends heavily on external factors: e.g. stress levels, age, etc. Stress can be caused by production levels but also nutritional status, hygiene, pathogens and/or diseases present and even management. Many times animals that appear to be in the same condition react completely differently to similar levels of mycotoxins.

Additionally, mycotoxins problems are often compared with an iceberg: only the tip of the iceberg is visible, and in this metaphor these are clinical symptoms due to mycotoxins. Below the water and invisible to the naked eye, subclinical effects already have an impact on a cellular level and arguably pose a greater risk to animals and profitability.

[Feedinfo News Service] Mycotoxins are a constantly mutating challenge. As one of the world’s leaders in mycotoxin surveillance, what do you see as the next face of the mycotoxin threat?

[Verena Starkl] We will continue to apply a research-based approach to the mycotoxin threat: the more we understand, the better able we are to help our customers achieve successful outcomes. We steer our sizeable research and development efforts towards breakthroughs that will serve the animal protein industry. Where there is a potential threat to animals, a solution will be needed.

For instance, emerging mycotoxins have been coming onto the radar in recent years. These are less well researched and less understood than conventional mycotoxins. However, certain ones, e.g. enniatins and beauvericins, frequently occur at high levels and we are working to evaluate their toxicity to determine the extent to which animals may be negatively impacted.

Another trend we expect to see continue has already begun—new or unusual weather patterns stemming from climate change influence weather patterns which introduces new challenges to certain regions e.g. higher aflatoxin challenges in Europe. But the future is not all ‘doom and gloom’: the adoption of precision livestock farming technologies affords opportunities when it comes to the detection and mitigation of mycotoxin risks in the field. We are pursuing activities on all of these fronts.

This interview was first published on www.feedinfo.com.