Editor’s note: This is Owen Roberts’ Real Talk, Real Action column. Each week, Owen will offer his insight into how farmers and the agricultural industry can participate in the rural- and ag-related discussions going on around them. Contact Owen at [email protected] or on Twitter at @TheUrbanCowboy.
So you’ve done your homework, tested your feed for mold (which can contain harmful mycotoxins) and found none. But still, you ended up with sick animals. What’s up?
Well, it turns out popular mycotoxin tests — while once the best there were — are not sophisticated enough to find all the nasty organisms lurking in your feed. That means your livestock may still be at risk, despite your best efforts.
At the 29th annual Alltech Symposium in Kentucky this week, mycotoxin experts including University of Guelph Profs. Herman Boermans, Niel Karrow and Trevor Smith told members of the animal nutrition community that thanks to improved detection technology, researchers have now identified 37 different mycotoxins.
A decade ago, they could find about a half dozen.
But they suspected there were more, and it turns out they were right – there are many more, as many as 22 in a single feed sample. And the belief in mycotoxin-free feed has been dismissed as well. Now, researchers know as much as 98 per cent of all feed has at least one mycotoxin, and 93 per cent has more than one.
Those numbers include emerging toxic chemical compounds produced by molds, called “masked” mycotoxins – that is, those appearing in more than one chemical form. They are among those that could not previously be detected. In fact, it turns out as many as half of all mycotoxins may be masked. And no one knows how all 37 of them work together.
“We know little about their interactions, but synergism is a reality,” says Karrow.
With support from Alltech and others, animal nutritionists and feed specialists can now move ahead, create a database, figure out toxicity levels and help producers make better-informed management decisions about their feed. Karrow commends Alltech for its effort in leading the charge for this technology in the livestock sector.
With our continual focus on food exports, quality and safety, as well as consumers’ interest in knowing farmers are looking after their livestock, this is the kind of new knowledge needed to create evidenced-based informed policy.
Saying more research is needed sounds like a cliché, but it’s true – now’s the time to increase agricultural research funding for such important efforts. That’s how we’ll keep animals healthy, farmers profitable and the economy moving.