The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said it will distribute the new guide to cereal farmers this week, as the EU stamps down on mycotoxins in cereals. The guide advises UK farmers on how to reduce the levels of the potentially harmful toxin by making changes to their cultivation and storage practices. Last year, the EU's food safety agency set a weekly intake limit for the mycotoxin ochratoxin A (OTA) and other forms of the toxin. The European Commission has since released new legal limits across the bloc. The UK guide sets out new codes of practice that have been developed in response to the EU recommendations. The guide advises farmers to avoid intense rotations of crops such as maize, wheat, barley and oats, which are the prime hosts of the Fusarium fungi, a cause of one type of mycotoxin. Grain stores should be well designed and maintained, with good ventilation and air flow, and temperature, moisture content and insect activity should be checked on a regular basis, the guide stated. Mycotoxins can get into the human food supply as a result of the growth of specific fungi on food crops, either in the field or in storage. The toxin is produced as a byproduct of the fungi. The OTA mycotoxin is found in cereals, cereal products, cocoa products, nuts, spices and coffee. The EU legal limit for mycotoxins in finished products such as bread and breakfast cereals is 500 parts per billion. Flour may contain 750ppb, and the limit for unprocessed wheat is 1,250ppb, according to EU studies. OTA usually accumulates in the liver, and the EU limit of Tolerable Weekly Intake (TWI) is 120 ng per kg body weight for the compound. The FSA will distribute the guide to over 43,000 cereal farmers in England, with separate distributions across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Even a mild bout of microtoxins can cost growers up to 25 per cent of their yield and, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), world losses of food stuffs due to mycotoxins can reach up to 1,000 million tonnes per year. It is a particular worry for bakery firms as mycotoxin remains stable during processing and, if found in the raw grain, can reoccur in foods containing wheat flour. Last year Italian authorities confiscated 58,000 tonnes of Canadian durum wheat destined for pasta production at the port of Bari. Police also arrested Francesco Casillo, the head of Molino Casillo, one of Europe's largest millers.
The arrest followed the discovery that wheat imported from Canada had three times the allowable limit of ocratoxin, a carcinogenic mycotoxin.