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Aflatoxin Awareness

As harvest time approaches, farmers and growers are on the alert for aflatoxin contamination. Aflatoxins are a type of mycotoxins produced by molds, and they infect many different kinds of crops – particularly corn. These chemical byproducts form when the weather is hot and humid or after a field has experienced harsh environmental changes. In addition, contamination often occurs after produce has been weakened by insects, rodents or damp storage conditions.

Once aflatoxins have infected a plant, they can harm livestock and people who directly consume it. After ingestion, these harmful mycotoxins also pollute foods made with animal products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt.

Aflatoxins affect different species in a variety of ways. In poultry, they cause fatty livers, growth suppression and reduced egg production. Swine that have ingested aflatoxins experience liver damage, deficiencies in vitamin A and E and a weakened immune system. For ruminants, the consumption of contaminated feed leads to liver lesions, a decrease in milk production and a low rate of gain. In horses, aflatoxins interfere with protein synthesis, causing stunted growth, and they hinder the metabolism of vitamin D, which results in weak bones. Fish can also be infected by aflatoxins, which impair their immune systems, cause anemia and produce cancerous tumors.

In the face of these negative effects on livestock and their productivity, it is important for farmers, growers and feed mills to test raw ingredients for aflatoxins. Testing should be completed before feed is mixed to avoid contaminating the other components. By taking this preventative step, farmers and growers can ensure healthy feed for livestock and safe products for consumers.