There is probably no safe level of mycotoxins in livestock feed, yet most poultry diet components contain them.

According to the 2015 BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey results, 84 percent of corn, wheat, soybean and finished feed samples taken worldwide contain at least one mycotoxin, though several are typically present at a time.

2015 mycotoxin survey results

Figure 1 and Table 1 show the percentage of samples that tested positive for each of the six major mycotoxins in the primary components used for poultry feed: finished feed, maize (corn), wheat and soy.

Bars indicate percentage of samples that tested positive for mycotoxin presence, while dots indicate percentage of samples registering concentrations in excess of maximum risk thresholds, e.g. at levels known to impair animal health or performance.

In light of this data, the top mycotoxin threats to poultry worldwide are:

  1. Deoxynivalenol
  2. Zearalenone
  3. Fumonisins
  4. Aflatoxins
  5. T-2 toxin
  6. Ochratoxin A

The risks posed by deoxynivalenol (vomitoxin) and estrogenic zearalenone may come as no surprise. However, the fumonisin levels in corn stand out.

Recent scientific findings focusing on subclinical effects of fumonisins suggest that the intestinal tract of birds is very sensitive to fumonisin exposure.

2015_MT Survey_Risk evalutions-1604PIpoultrymycotoxin1.jpg

Bars indicate percentage of samples that tested positive for mycotoxin presence. Dots indicate percentage of samples registering concentrations in excess of maximum risk thresholds, e.g. at levels known to impair animal health or performance shown in Table 2.

Mycotox Table-1604PIpoultrymycotoxin2.jpg

Taking average concentration levels (dots) into account provides a clearer depiction of where the most significant mycotoxin threats to poultry lie. Source: BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey

Identifying mycotoxin threats

Mycotoxin detection tools have become several hundred times more powerful over the past decade, and to fully benefit from these advances, today’s poultry producers need to know more than whether there is simply contamination in tested samples.

Identifying the biggest threats to poultry production requires an understanding of the occurrence of mycotoxins in the field, concentration levels and sensitivity in commercial poultry species.

Constant, heterogeneous and evolving danger

To date, researchers have identified more than 380 different mycotoxins and related metabolites.

The wide diversity of mycotoxins that contaminate agricultural commodities presents a variety of different negative impacts in livestock that begin at even low levels of exposure.

These can include reproductive problems, immune disorders, impaired organ function, reduced weight gain and impaired performance.

These situations may be aggravated when several mycotoxins co-occur in feeds, when exposure to several different pathogens often are not adequately controlled by biosecurity measures or when the usage of by-products in feeds further contributes to the total load of inflammatory agents to which animals are exposed.

Link to endotoxins

Mycotoxins found in feed also aggravate exposure to endotoxins, also known as lipopolysaccharides or LPS, that are part of the outer membrane of the cell wall of all gram-negative bacteria.

Locally, endotoxins are a strong trigger of the gut immune response. In this context, DON might be a “door opener” for endotoxins to enter the organism and stimulate the receptors for the immune-cascades. This might result in loss of performance as the animals have to use energy for the immune response.

Protecting flocks

With many feed additives commercially available, producers would do well to evaluate the efficacy of any given solution with regards to mitigating the harm posed by mycotoxins and endotoxins.