West Virginia warns of grain toxin

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) has been made aware that cool, damp conditions have encouraged significant outbreaks of fungi on barley and wheat crops throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

The fungi can produce the mycotoxin Deoxynivalenol (DON), also known as vomitoxin, in food and animal feed. The toxin affects different species at different concentrations, but one thing to watch for in livestock is animals refusing or eating less feed, excessive salivation and/or vomiting. Animals generally will refuse to eat enough tainted feed to become seriously ill.

Swine are most susceptible, exhibiting reduced feed intake at levels as low as 1-3 ppm. Cattle are less susceptible, but may reduce feed intake when levels exceed 6 ppm for extended periods. Poultry are considered most resistant, but have exhibited symptoms at greater than 10 ppm. There is little information on the effects of DON in horses, but recent studies suggest levels of 5-10 ppm will result in reduced feed intake. Dogs and cats tend to refuse feed at levels of 4-7.5 ppm and vomiting ensues at levels of 8-10 ppm.

“We are advising farmers to keep a close eye on their livestock if they are feeding barley or wheat, and to be cautious if they are growing for their own consumption,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass. West Virginia does not have commercial flour mills, nor do many West Virginia farmers grow wheat or barley, but the potential for illness in humans and animals justifies the warning, he added.

Grain with DON would have to be ingested in very high amounts to pose a health risk to humans, but it can affect flavors in foods and processing performance.

The WVDA Regulatory and Environmental Affairs Division has sent a survey to West Virginia feed manufacturers currently holding a West Virginia Commercial Feed License who may be using 2009 wheat and barley, and has requested they alert the Department of any elevated levels of DON as well as adverse animal effects.

WVDA will also test grain samples for DON. Concerned farmers should contact WVDA’s Regulatory and Environmental Affairs Division Director Herma Johnson or Assistant Director Chad Linton at 304-558-2227 for details.

Farmers with crop insurance policies should contact their agents to arrange for official testing specific to the crop insurance program before grain is harvested and mixed with other stores.

For more information, click here http://www.wvagriculture.org.

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