Crop contamination risk downgraded

By Catherine Boal

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wheat Mycotoxin

British farmers and bakery firms can breathe a sigh of relief as
the risk of crop contamination from mycotoxins is low this year,
according to an industry organisation.

Mycotoxins are devastating toxins caused by some species of fungi, even a mild bout can cost growers up to 25% 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.

But this week, the UK's Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) downgraded the risk to the summer harvest

In researching the possible occurrence of the fungus, the HGCA tested 100 wheat samples and found mycotoxin levels to be well below the EU prescribed maximum limits of the contaminant in grain intended for human consumption.

CropMonitor, an industry information source, confirmed that this year fusarium blight has fallen well below the UK average with only 2.5 per cent of ears affected compared to a national 10 year average of 4 per cent.

However recent rain has given rise to fears that the mycotoxin could appear in stored grain, making it crucial for farmers to implement proper storage techniques such as adequate drying.

Head of crop marketing at agricultural industries confederation Paul Rooke said: "The results we are seeing from crops harvested before the rain are showing minimal signs of fusarium mycotoxins in line with our expectations. With the main infection period for fusarium being flowering we would not now expect to see levels for the field borne mycotoxins increase dramatically because of the rain.

We do however need to think more carefully about storage mycotoxins."

The storage mycotoxin Ochratoxin A (OTA) can occur where grain is harvested above an 18 per cent moisture content.

In June the EU's food safety agency set weekly intake limits for consumption of OTA to encourage processors to reduce their occurrence in food commodities such as cereals.

The EU's scientific panel discovered that OTA accumulates in the kidney and is particularly toxic to that organ. They set a weekly limit of Tolerable Weekly Intake (TWI) of 120 ng per kg body weight for the compound.

Currently, the weekly exposure of the general population to OTA varies between 15 and 60 ng per kg bodyweight and is therefore well below this value.

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