There are approximately 500 known mycotoxins, and interactions between toxins can often make diagnosis difficult. Making matters even more complicated, the presence of masked mycotoxins in animal feed can lead to an underestimation of certain mycotoxins by up to 88 percent, thus explaining why analyzed feeds showing low levels of mycotoxins can still cause problems on-farm.

However, in the field of mycotoxin research, we've come a long way. That was the common theme among many of the world-renowned expert presenters at Alltech's first annual North America Mycotoxin Management Summit in Lexington, Ky., August 4-5. More than 65 industry members attended "Making Sense of the Maze... New Strategies for Old Problems," where attendees discovered just how far mycotoxin research and analysis has come; and how far Alltech has taken it globally through their Mycotoxin Management Program.

"In the last two decades, advances in technology have altered our view of mycotoxin issues in the food chain. We now know it is a mycotoxin complex, and we have a better understanding of the physiological and pathological effects of mycotoxins" said Dr. Karl Dawson, chief scientific officer at Alltech.

In his presentation, "Mycotoxin Research, 20 Years and What Have We Learned," Dawson discussed how researchers are now able to detect a greater number of mycotoxins with the use of LC-MS/MS methodology (Alltech's 37+ Program); can provide a risk assessment based on the mycotoxins that are found as they relate to the particular species being fed; and determine the correct mitigation strategy through balanced nutrition and the development of functional carbohydrates. 

In addition to increased detection and assessment in the laboratory, researchers have also identified more risk factors at the farm level. According to Randy Asher, Animal Science Consulting, conditions such as stress (environmental, overcrowding, comfort), disease, diet and stray voltage can magnify a mycotoxin problem. There at least 16 contributing factors for low feed intake and no less than 13 parameters to consider for low milk production. Mycotoxins are only listed once on each of these lists; however, it is important to understand how these toxins might impact other factors in such a way that symptoms can be misleading. 

"We are working with a big petri dish for fungal organisms. Know what you are actually dealing with. Troubleshoot. It is easy to blame a lot of things on mycotoxins, but we could have mycotoxins working with a lot of other conditions on the farm," Asher said. 

Johanna Fink-Gremmels, Utrecht University, echoed Asher's comments as she pointed out that mycotoxins continue to be a concern for both animals and humans.  Aflatoxins, the most prevalent mycotoxins worldwide, can impair the cow's liver function and  immune system, which can lead to production losses and an increased prevalence of disease. The industry is also seeing increased levels of aflatoxin getting into the milk supply. In February, the European Union closed 3,500 dairy farms for days while awaiting analytical results, after finding a high prevalence of milk exceeding the legal limit for aflatoxins.

"On the global scale we have to learn we need to deal with mycotoxins. We will never get rid of them. We have to be prepared that the sudden incidence of mycotoxins in grains will not be infrequent," Fink-Gremmels said.

Preparation is key as many of the speakers touched upon the necessity for producers and feed mills to implement a mycotoxin management program utilizing Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HAACP)-based principles. The industry needs to understand pre- and post- harvest mycotoxin contamination and identify hazards as well as potential control points for mitigation.

"It's important to do our best to diagnose the challenge. When we are talking to producers, people want to know what is going on so they can be more confident in making decisions. If they don't have a mycotoxin management program in place or are not looking at it holistically, they will have an issue," said Nick Adams, global sales director of Alltech's Mycotoxin Management Team. "When all is said and done, mycotoxins are going to be with us, and having that final solution in the diet is critical to mitigate the problem to the animal."

An entire track will be dedicated to mycotoxins at GLIMPSE 2020: the 29th Annual Alltech International Symposium in Lexington, Ky., May 19-22.

The Mycotoxins and Much More track includes:

  • Risk Assessment Today Versus Analysis: A Case of the Cart before the Horse?
  • Rethinking Regulatory Standards: Can this be Analytically-Based Only?
  • Mycotoxins: The Global Picture
  • Risk, Remediation and Solution: Mycotoxin Management
  • Where Mycotoxins are Taking Us: Species by Species
  • Seven Years from Now: Will the level of mycotoxins allowed in feed and food be strictly regulated?

Registration for Alltech's 29th Annual International Symposium is open now and available for an early discount price of $599 until April 25 at 11:59 p.m. EST. Standard registration after April 25 will be $850. Two paid registrations from a single company or organization will receive a third registration free of charge. Delegates who are members of ARPAS and AAVSB can also earn CEUs.

Attendees are encouraged to register early as space is limited. Of the nearly 3,000 international delegates who attended the 2012 Alltech International Symposium, 97 percent indicated that they plan to attend again.