The summer of 2012 was one for the books! Record-breaking high temperatures in much of the Corn Belt and the Western Plains coupled with intense drought had a detrimental impact on the corn crop harvested late in the summer and into the fall. The extended dry heat spell — especially the lack of night-time temperature drops — created the perfect breeding ground for mold, leading to the most widespread outbreak of aflatoxin in recent history.
Levels of aflatoxin, a carcinogenic, naturally occurring mold regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), were so elevated the FDA approved eight states to blend aflatoxin-infected corn into animal feed at well-above normally accepted levels. (See key, right, of states with confirmed aflatoxin outbreaks in November, and those approved to blend the corn for feed.).
As Leah Wilkinson, director of ingredients and state legislative affairs for the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), explains, states that demonstrated they had a severe aflatoxin problem were allowed to issue a cooperative agreement with firms that blended aflatoxin into feed. Grain dealers had to file a compliance agreement with their state department of agriculture and the land stewardship before doing any blending.
Provisions in the compliance agreement included:
- Analysis must be performed using approved sampling and analysis protocols and testing procedures outlined by GIPSA
- The results must be provided to the purchaser of the blended corn
- The purchaser must also provide written assurance that the corn will be used for feed consistence with FDA guidance
- The blended corn must be clearly identified and labeled for animal feed use only
- Corn containing aflatoxin levels greater than 500 ppb cannot be blended
The cooperative agreement also established specific aflatoxin levels for different types of livestock. Wilkinson adds, “Most of these state agreements were for a short period of time. The longest went until the end of 2012, and Iowa’s was up at the end of October.”
However, the implications of the aflatoxin outbreak will go on for grain dealers and purchasers for months. “Continued proper testing will give those in the industry the confidence they need to sell their products to the end user,” Wilkinson says.
As we move into 2013, the role of testing will remain crucial in managing and marketing grain, and protecting your customers and your company.
Testing aids in compliance
As the first provision in each state’s aflatoxin cooperative agreement, it’s clear testing and analysis is key to regulatory compliance. The Food Safety Modernization Act has also brightened the spotlight on grain testing, and as a result, today’s market offers a variety of products to feed and grain companies.
According to Pat Frasco, director of sales for Neogen, based in Lansing, MI, determining the best testing method for your organization starts by examining how the grain will be used. “Is it for human food or for a feed operation, and what species are they grinding commercial feed for?” are examples Frasco cites. “In some cases you only want to know if it’s below the USDA guidelines, and then a qualitative screening test — which yields a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ result — might be the best way to decide whether to reject or accept grain.”
On the other hand, situations like the outbreak this summer required the blending of corn at specific levels according to its intended purpose, so a quantitative answer — given in parts per billion (ppb) — was necessary. Frasco says Neogen’s fully quantitative test, Q+ Aflatoxin, is ideal for this scenario because it detects up to 150 ppb with only one dilution step, significantly reducing time spent waiting for results.
Test speed is an important factor for feed and grain companies to consider. Sometimes it’s imperative to get results as fast as possible — such as during the harvest rush when grain is incoming truck after truck. But this year, John Jabour, research scientist and mycotoxin analyst at Lawrence, MA-based Charm Sciences, says their customers find as much value in the slower tests as their fastest one offered.