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Mycotoxin Crop Contamination Levels Are Vastly Underestimated According to Researchers

Up to 80% of global agricultural crops are contaminated by mycotoxins


Christiane Gruber-Dorninger

According to a frequently cited estimate ascribed to FAO, 25% of the world‘s agricultural crops are contaminated with mycotoxins. However, the source of this estimate has been lost over time and more recent data indicates that global mycotoxin occurrence in crops is far higher.

According to a frequently cited estimate ascribed to FAO, 25% of the world‘s agricultural crops are contaminated with mycotoxins. However, the source of this estimate has been lost over time and more recent data indicates that global mycotoxin occurrence in crops is far higher.

New mycotoxin research

In a 2019 study published in “Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition”, a renowned group of researchers, including Dr. Mari Eskola and Prof. Rudolf Krska from IFA-Tulln (BOKU University, Austria), evaluated the validity of this 25% estimate. 

The authors concluded that this oft-cited figure greatly underestimates global mycotoxin occurrences, noting that “to best of our knowledge, it seems that there is no accurate published reference available for the figure of 25% world’s food crop mycotoxin-contaminated. Nor there is any information on which dataset this estimate was based on or how it was calculated.”

Through examining published global mycotoxin occurrence data and analyzing large datasets of mycotoxin concentrations in agricultural commodities, including a dataset derived from the BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey, they determined that 60% to 80% of crops are likely to be contaminated by mycotoxins.

New mycotoxin research

Worldwide contamination of food-crops with mycotoxins:

Validity of the widely cited 'FAO estimate' of 25%.” Eskola M., Kos G., Elliott C.T., Hajšlová J., Mayar S., Krska R.,  Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2019. 

A renowned group of researchers determined that 60% to 80% of crops are likely to be contaminated by mycotoxins.

Additional research supports the 80% occurrence figure

In another study published in the scientific journal “Toxins”, I and other BIOMIN researchers analyzed mycotoxin occurrence in 74,821 feed samples collected from 100 countries over a ten-year period (2008 – 2017), making this the largest and most comprehensive global survey of mycotoxin occurrence in feed published to date.

In our research, we found that mycotoxins were present in the vast majority of the samples (88% of samples contained at least one mycotoxin) and that co-occurrence of mycotoxins was very common (64% of samples contained at least two mycotoxins).

Occurrence of mycotoxins in 15 geographic regions

For each region, countries of sample origin are labeled in the map using a distinct color. The legend indicates percentage of positive samples and median of positive samples for each mycotoxin in each region. Each row represents one region and is labeled using the distinct color corresponding to the respective region in the map. n–sample number; AFB1–aflatoxin B1; DON–deoxynivalenol; ZEN–zearalenone; FUM–fumonisins (sum of fumonisins B1, B2,and B3); OTA–ochratoxin A; T-2–T-2 toxin.

Beware of mycotoxin ‘cocktails’

Some of the most frequently detected mycotoxin combinations (e.g. deoxynivalenol and zearalenone, or aflatoxins and fumonisins) may exert additive or synergistic effects according to published studies.

Known combinations of mycotoxins with synergistic consequences in poultry
Known combinations of mycotoxins with synergistic consequences in poultry
Source: BIOMIN

Regional variation in mycotoxins

According to the study, each geographic region showed a distinct mycotoxin occurrence pattern governed by climate and other factors, indicating that each region faces its own challenges with respect to mycotoxin contamination of feed.

For example, significant fractions of samples from South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia exceeded the European Union maximum level for aflatoxin B1 indicating a potential threat to animal production.

In several regions, mycotoxin concentrations in corn varied substantially from year to year, a variation partly explained by temperature or rainfall during flowering or in the lead-up to harvest.

These results suggest that extreme weather conditions during sensitive periods of grain development may lead to mycotoxin contamination levels far in excess of levels typically observed in a given region.

An updated perspective on mycotoxins

Results of large-scale global surveys indicate that mycotoxins contaminate up to 80% of global feedstuffs, and mycotoxin occurrence shows regional trends governed in part by climate and weather. Furthermore, mycotoxin co-occurrence is very common and co-occurring mycotoxins may exert combined toxic effects. 

These results highlight the need for the application of good agricultural practices, regular testing of feed for mycotoxins, and protection of farm animals from adverse effects of mycotoxins by the application of mycotoxin deactivating feed additives.

Photo: iStock / ghornephoto
Photo: iStock / ghornephoto

An updated perspective on mycotoxins

Results of large-scale global surveys indicate that mycotoxins contaminate up to 80% of global feedstuffs, and mycotoxin occurrence shows regional trends governed in part by climate and weather. Furthermore, mycotoxin co-occurrence is very common and co-occurring mycotoxins may exert combined toxic effects. 

These results highlight the need for the application of good agricultural practices, regular testing of feed for mycotoxins, and protection of farm animals from adverse effects of mycotoxins by the application of mycotoxin deactivating feed additives.

References

1. Eskola M., Kos G., Elliott C.T., Hajšlová J., Mayar S., Krska R. Worldwide contamination of food-crops with mycotoxins: Validity of the widely cited 'FAO estimate' of 25%. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, in press. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408398.2019.1658570

2. Gruber-Dorninger, C.; Jenkins, T.; Schatzmayr, G. Global mycotoxin occurrence in feed: A ten-year survey. Toxins 2019, 11, 375. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6651/11/7/375