Ongoing Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) research is looking at ways of reducing the threat of mycotoxins within cereal crops.

Animal feed compounding businesses around the world are confirming the significant extent of mycotoxin contamination levels within cereals, other grains and plant protein sources.

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites, produced when fungi come under stress.

They are associated with a number of health and performance-related challenges that can arise within all aspects of livestock production.


Significant numbers of mycotoxins have been classified up to this point, however, research scientists believe that many others have yet to be identified. 

The insidious nature of mycotoxins is amplified by the fact that they cannot be seen by the naked eye. It requires sophisticated laboratory analysis to confirm their presence.

Regulatory thresholds are in place where one specific mycotoxin known as aflatoxin is concerned.

Where other mycotoxins are concerned, regulatory guidelines are in place regarding their inclusion rates in compound animal feeds.

However, one of the overarching themes emanating from the seminar, was the assertion that mycotoxins can have a significant impact on animal health and performance even at feed inclusion rates deemed to be well below current recommended levels.

AFBI PhD research student, Naoise McKenna, has confirmed that up to 25% of food grade oats are taken out of the human food chain because they breach the current alflotoxin regulatory thresholds.

However, the prospect of new regulations being introduced, linked to additional mycotoxins is very significant.

“If introduced, these would serve to reduce further quantities of cereals allowed for inclusion, within both human and animal feeds,” she said.

Cereal crops

According to McKenna, approximately 80% of the grains and plant proteins produced around the world contain mycotoxins.

“This figure is set to grow. Mycotoxins used to be considered a challenge for farmers in the southern hemisphere.

“However, the continuing impact of climate change has resulted in the issue becoming one that now confronts crops production on a global basis.

“Mycotoxin contamination can be linked to many sources – soil contamination being one of them.”

The AFBI student is a member of the AFBI research team, currently looking at ways of minimising mycotoxins levels in growing oat crops.

“This specific cereal was selected because the panicle structure of the crops makes it harder to see the presence of fungal infections,” she explained.

“This is in total contrast to the situation in the likes of wheat and barley.”

Early results from the AFBI trials have confirmed the direct association between plant height, and the presence of fungi and associated mycotoxins.

“This is shedding new light on how best to use plant growth promoters on cereal crops, such as oats,” she said.