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The Trouble with T-2

Mycotoxins are one of the most prevalent causes of reduced crop yields and poor performance in animals, but they are also one of the most difficult issues to control. This is because molds often produce more than one mycotoxin, as is the case with the Fusarium fungus. One of this mold's byproducts is the T-2 toxin, which in turn produces HT-2 toxin in order to digest nutrients. The combination of T-2 and HT-2 affects many plants, particularly cereal crops and feed materials such as maize, wheat, barley, milo, corn gluten feed, corn gluten meal, corn DDGS and bran. If the diseased grains are consumed, these mycotoxins can cause illnesses in both animals and people.

T-2 and HT-2 toxins produce a variety of symptoms in livestock, such as vomiting, inhibited growth, blocked DNA synthesis, a decrease in fertility and a compromised immune system. In poultry, these invaders create oral lesions, disrupt the feathering process, decrease egg production and cause thin, low-quality egg shells. The toxins also negatively impact cattle by lowering milk production, causing gastroenteritis and decreasing weight gain. Swine experience a reduced feed intake, hemorrhages and blood disorders, as well as a reduced birth rate. In horses, the mycotoxins cause liver damage, edema, disease susceptibility and weight loss.

For humans, the T-2 and HT-2 toxins can enter their bodies through contact with the skin or ingestion. Infection often results in itching, rashes, blisters, bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea and labored breathing. In addition, these poisonous substances can destroy white blood cells, cause bone marrow to deteriorate and disrupt the nervous system.

The T-2 and HT-2 mycotoxins can contaminate crops in the field as well as in storage. Fusarium mold requires damp, cool conditions to flourish and often attacks a plant when its moisture and carbon dioxide levels are high. In addition, environmental factors, such as floods, droughts, insects and weed density, can weaken a crop and increase its vulnerability to infection by mycotoxins. If storage conditions create a damp environment and do not allow proper airflow, the Fusarium mold can develop on grains even after they are harvested. Feed contamination by T-2 and HT-2 toxins can cause significant damage to a farm's yield and livestock, and it will seriously reduce profits. In light of this, it's important for farmers to be proactive in preventing the formation of Fusarium mold and its subsequent production of T-2 toxin.

Since normal heat exposure during processing and cooking will not destroy T-2 and HT-2 mycotoxins, the fungus must be identified and eradicated in the initial stages of a crop's life To combat contamination, farmers can take a number of steps before, during and after harvest. When a field is being prepared for planting, potential carriers of mycotoxins such as straw, chaff and weeds should be removed. In addition, crop rotation helps prevent recontamination, and weed control reduces the risk of infected plants spreading the fungus to the crop. At harvest time, combine fans should be set to a high speed, which will help ensure that diseased cereal and chaff are blown away from intact grain. Also, farmers can increase the cutting height to prevent grain from being contaminated by mold spores in the soil. Once a crop has been harvested, it is important to keep grain and silage moisture levels lower than 13 percent and to provide the proper combination of ventilation and protection from the elements for stored grains. To help ensure that crops and their end products are safe for consumers, grain samples can be sent to a lab for testing. This allows farmers to choose the right course of action for dealing with diseased grain and can save them from a costly mistake. By taking a proactive stance toward T-2 and HT-2 toxins, farmers can protect crops, livestock and consumers from the harmful effects of mycotoxins.