The summer of 2012 was marked by extreme, record-breaking high temperatures and intense drought across most of the United States. The weather had a detrimental impact, especially in the bread bowl and corn growing states, where crops harvested late in the summer and into the fall showed evidence of one of the most widespread mycotoxin outbreaks in recent history.
Mycotoxins produced from fusarium mold are known carcinogens in humans and animals. In livestock production, it can have severe effects on feed intake, reproduction and immune status. The presence of any individual mycotoxin — such as vomitoxin, fumonisin or zearalonone — is capable of damaging animal health, but a combination of these can be even worse or deadly.
To better identify mycotoxins and the effects various combinations can have on livestock, the Lexington, KY-based animal health and nutrition company Alltech launched its 37+ Program, a mass spectrometry technique LC-MS2 that can investigate 38 different mycotoxins quantitatively and more than 50 others qualitatively in less than 15 minutes/sample.
The 37+ Program took post-harvest samples from across the United States to determine the top three mycotoxins by area, calculate the average levels present, and the percentages at which those toxins persisted both in corn grain and corn silage.
Max Hawkins, a nutritionist at Alltech, sat down with Feed & Grain to share some results of the nationwide 37+ Program and how they were used to provide better recommendations for those in the livestock, feed and related industries seeking mycotoxin advice.
It is often said that “less is more,” but in the case of identifying and quantifying mycotoxins, the more detailed an analysis is, the better. The LC-MS2 technology Alltech utilizes for its 37+ program provides a highly accurate mycotoxin analysis, sometimes revealing higher toxin levels than one might get from a traditional lab.
“A customer may get a result of 250 ppb (parts per billion) of DON from a typical lab, whereas our analysis would additionally reveal 100 ppb of 3-acetyl DON and 50 ppb of 15-acetyl DON. We may determine a number that exceeds what an ELISA test might say.”
Furthermore, most mycotoxin tests focus on one at a time, such as just DON or just Aflatoxin, however, Hawkins noted that “masked mycotoxins” can also be present. With the ability to quantify up to 38 mycotoxins simultaneously, Alltech found masked mycotoxins in a vast majority of its samples.
“We analyzed only three samples where one mycotoxin was present,” stated Hawkins. “All other samples had multiple mycotoxins. In fact, 92% of the samples had three to seven mycotoxins.” (See images for more detailed maps and charts of results.)
The ability to measure multiple mycotoxins at once is crucial because they can have synergistic effects on one another and exaggerate the negative impact on livestock.
“One part of a mycotoxin will magnify a different part of another mycotoxin, resulting in various problems for livestock producers with respect to milk and egg production, weight gain and mortality,” explained Hawkins.
Researchers at the 37+ Program lab in Winchester, KY, continue to study their results to gain a better understanding of these synergistic effects and bring new, innovative solutions to the increasing challenge of mycotoxin management.
Turning data to advice
Last fall, Alltech opened its Mycotoxin Hotline, inviting those those in the feed, grain and related fields to call with mycotoxin questions. Results of the 37+ Program were used to help Hawkins and other Alltech representatives answer customer queries during the troublesome season and serve as an industry-wide resource for anyone stricken with mycotoxin-related issues.
Hawkins responded to and helped many hotline callers, but said the acute aflatoxin spike caught some producers off guard.