Crops contaminated with mycotoxins are a significant health risk, and potentially very expensive for grain producers and traders.

Mycotoxin contamination in crops is a worldwide problem which generates significant health threats to humans and animals and can create huge losses for grain producers and traders. Other consequences are increased health care costs, reduced livestock production, costly safety control programs and product recall programs that can arise later, when processed goods are found to be contaminated. In the absence of fully effective solutions, many countries rely on laboratory analyses of sampled grains and strict threshold-based regulations, which are very costly and prone to sampling error. At the same time global authorities and consumers have become more strict about their expectations towards food and feed safety.

A small lot of contaminated grain comingled within a big parcel on board a panamax, is sufficient to turn the shipment into an unsafe and unusable commodity. A contaminated cargo immediately loses value and in some cases may even have to be destroyed. Just one infected corn kernel in a 1 kg sample is enough to send it many times over the permitted limits.

Early Warnings

Effective early warnings are hard to come by, existing official notification systems have been bugged by delays, leaving the market looking for more sophisticated instruments for risk mitigation. SGS’s Mycotoxin Monitoring Programme is just such a tool. Now entering its third year of reporting, the programme covers 10 countries of South East Europe and focuses on corn crops.

In 2016, the new crop again brings high risks for some districts. Traders can receive timely information about potential risks to allow them to react quickly, implement thorough screening programmes and avoid contamination of their supply chains.

Screening Programme

This year, screening started before harvest, during the ripening stage and continued with testing of samples obtained at silos and first collection points. This means the data is very specific and problem areas can be identified early. Results so far confirm a high risk of contamination in some areas, and 29% of samples tested exceed permitted toxin limits. In 2015 the risk level was much lower, when less than 19% of samples were contaminated. The 2016 crop represents a sharp increase in contamination, this is a result of weather conditions suited to the growth of moulds and their potential toxin production.

For monitoring, in 2016 we implemented significant improvements to the programme – a forecasting model based on weather conditions was added and a “disease Index” was developed to help detect areas affected by fungal diseases. A pilot project has been launched in Serbia, historically the country most affected by mycotoxins contamination. For implementation of this pilot project we are using data from more than 1,200 weather stations in Serbia. The index is providing an assessment of the relative likelihood that weather conditions in a certain area will be conducive to the growth of fungal diseases known to produce harmful toxins. These fungal diseases include Aspergilius flavus, Aspergilius parastiticus, Fusarium kyushense, and Fusarium Head Blight, all species in the genus Fusarium. Sampling for monitoring is then adjusted depending on the “disease index”, thereby helping to focus monitoring on the potentially most affected regions.

This year, we have identified issues with Aflatoxin, found in four countries, and Ochratoxins found in three. In some parcels Aflatoxin levels are 40 times higher than EU limits. Also, some problems have been found with DON, T2 and HT2 toxins. Toxins can also develop during storage. To mitigate this risk we will continue screening and providing warning notifications and guidelines throughout the season, up to the next crop.

Detailed findings of the monitoring program are fully disclosed to subscribers. The SGS Mycotoxin Monitoring Programme is an effective risk mitigation tool for our clients, the perfect marketing instrument to attract additional business and a very useful in-house tool for clients.

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For further information, please contact:

Gennadiy Shulga
Vice President Business Development
t: +41 22 739 9374

About SGS

SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 85,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1,800 offices and laboratories around the world.