With a projection of 997 million tons produced in 2029 (OECD-FAO), milk is an important source of protein for humans worldwide. Ensuring the safety and quality of milk is crucial within the dairy production chain. An often-overlooked issue is that mycotoxin-contaminated feed fed to lactating dairy cows can introduce toxic metabolites into milk, posing risks to human health. This is why continuous vigilance and effective management strategies, such as Vitafix mycotoxin binders, are essential for safeguarding feed and food safety in the dairy industry.

No safe food without safe feed

Though food safety is an important concept that involves the entire production process, it starts with farmers providing high-quality feed to their animals. This is essential because toxic metabolites (or mycotoxins), originating from molds and fungi in the feed, can be transferred through the animal into our food. Preventing mycotoxins from entering the animal is paramount, as they directly influence our dairy cattle’s health performance, but can also affect the safety of our milk.

Monitoring molds

Because mycotoxins are often invisible and tasteless, improved testing methods have been developed to accurately detect their presence in animal feed. Partly due to the impact of climate change, recent studies estimate that 60–80% of samples taken have mycotoxins above the detectable level (Eskola et al., 2019). The effects of mycotoxins include lost crops, reduced livestock productivity, as well as increased costs for testing and regulatory programs.

How molds turn into toxins

Molds can produce mycotoxins both pre-harvest (Figure 1), post-harvest during storage (Figure 2), and even in the total mixed ration (TMR) at feed out. No matter the location, mycotoxins are only produced by certain molds and under certain conditions if:

  • There is readily available starch from grains
  • There is a stressor(s) to the molds’ favorable environment
    • Too warm or too cold
    • Too dry or too moist
Figure 1: Molded corn in the field
Figure 2: Molded silage during storage

The conditions most suitable for mold growth and for mycotoxin production are different per type of mold (Table 1). Aspergillus and Fusarium molds produce the most impactful mycotoxins to dairy cattle.

MycotoxinsMold sourceGrains affectedOptimal temperature, humidity and moistureFavorable conditions
Aflatoxin (B1, B2, G1, G2)Aspergillus flavus
Aspergillus parasiticus
Corn, sorghum, cottonseed, and peanuts12-35 °C
80-85% relative humidity
3-18% moisture content
Damaged grain, constant high temperatures, and humidity
Vomitoxin (DON)Fusarium graminearumCorn, wheat, barley, sorghum, rye, and others26-28 °C
88% relative humidity
22% moisture content
Alternating warm and cool temperatures during the growing season with high humidity
ZearalenoneFusarium graminearumCorn, wheat, barley, and sorghum7-21% °C
24% moisture content
Alternating warm and cool temperatures during the growing season
Fuminosin (B1, B2, B3)Fusarium verticillioidesCorn< 25 °C
> 20% moisture content
Drought during the growing season followed by cool and wet conditions
Table 1: Sources and conditions for mycotoxin formation (Osweiler and Ensley, 2012; Negash, 2018)

Aflatoxin M1: a dairy concern

Among mycotoxins, aflatoxins are particularly concerning for the dairy industry. Aflatoxins, produced by molds Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus molds, can lead to adverse health effects in animals and humans. For example, in cattle, aflatoxin can cause reduced feed consumption, liver damage, cancer, a drop in milk production, immune suppression, and retarded growth and development. The four most common aflatoxins are B1, B2, G1, and G2 (Negash, 2018).

Toxin binders, a much-needed solution

When ruminants consume feed contaminated with aflatoxin B1 (AFB1), they metabolize it into aflatoxin M1 (AFM1), which can be excreted in milk. To mitigate this risk, mycotoxin binders are used to adsorb mycotoxins in the gastrointestinal tract of animals. Once bound, the mycotoxins are eliminated through the feces.

Stringent legislation

At least 100 countries have legislation regarding the control of mycotoxins in feed and food. In fact, 66 have specific legislation concerning AFM1 in milk. Milk that contains more than the maximum threshold level of AFM1 (e.g. 500 parts per trillion in the Americas and 0.05 parts per billion in Europe), is inevitably dumped.

How to choose the best mycotoxin binders

Not all mycotoxin binders are equally effective. Therefore, the effectiveness of any adsorbent to prevent mycotoxicosis must be tested both in vitro and in vivo. Agrimprove’s toxin solutions without exception offer scientifically proven binding efficacy. For the dairy industry,  extensive scientific trials demonstrate significant reductions in AFM1 presence with the use of Vitafix

Trials and studies

In an experiment at the Federal University of Santa Maria, 24 lactating Holstein dairy cows’ milk was analyzed on days 0, 1, 3, and 5. As can be observed in the table below, when cows were exposed to high levels of aflatoxin B1 contamination, a dose of Vitafix significantly reduced the presence of AFM1 in the milk on days 3 and 5. After 5 days, the use of Vitafix in the feed helped to reduce the presence of AFM1 in the milk by 71% compared to the challenged group with no toxin binder.

TreatmentDay 0 (ppb)*Day 1 (ppb)Day 3 (ppb)Day 5 (ppb)
Negative control0.0080.03b0.044c0.044c
Vitafix0.0040.02b0.024c0.014c
500 ppb Aflatoxin0.0091.28a2.03a3.18a
500 ppb Aflatoxin + Vitafix0.0080.49ab1.02b0.91b
abc Different superscripts between cells of the column are statistically different (P<0.05)

In another trial, on a commercial dairy farm in Parma, Italy, 800 lactating dairy cows were producing milk with levels of AFM1 above 0.05 ppb, the maximum accepted by the EU legislation. The addition of Vitafix to the rationhelped the farm achieve levels within the established EU legislation in just 24 hours (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Presence of AFM1 in milk before and after the addition of Vitafix Select

Conclusion

Mycotoxins pose significant risks to both animal and human health, as well as agricultural productivity. Continuous vigilance and effective management strategies, such as mycotoxin binders like Vitafix, are essential for safeguarding feed and food safety in the dairy industry.

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Kobe Lannoo
Global Lead Category Management