9 January 1998

New process might cut mycotoxin worry

MYCOTOXIN contamination of grain is a concern for both food and animal feed processors.

Now it seems North American scientists have developed a novel process which could minimise such problems in future.

In 1996, Ontarios million-tonne, soft, white wheat crop was devastated by a fusarium head blight outbreak. Of the grain that was harvested only a fraction could be used for human consumption because of high mycotoxin levels, says Canadian Grain Commission research scientist Randy Clear.

Growers throughout eastern North America suffered hefty financial losses as a result.

Fusarium can infect wheat, barley, oats and rye. Aside from causing thin grains, the fungus also produces mycotoxins under certain weather conditions. Vomitoxin is one of the most common.

Mycotoxins are also an issue in animal feed, since levels as low as one part per million can reduce feed intake, especially in pigs, say Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada guidelines.

Now Agriculture Canada scientists have pioneered a process that uses alcohol "borrowed" for a couple of hours from an ethanol plant. The alcohol is used to separate mycotoxins from the grain, the mycotoxins are then removed from the alcohol and the alcohol returned to the ethanol plant, says Bill Collins, research scientist based in Ottawa, Ontario.

The process removes 95% of the mycotoxins and separates grain into a pure starch substrate for making more ethanol and a high quality protein for use in animal feed.

The process has been proven on a laboratory scale and a commercial partner is now being sought, says Mr Collins. &#42