Mycotoxin contamination: The economic impact


Local opinions vary from sceptical to highly concerned regarding the threat that mycotoxin contamination poses as well as the negative impact it has on livestock production and food security. Due to the increasing incidence of mycotoxin contamination and the associated risks, it remains a priority in the international arena. It is important to understand the potential production and economic impact of mycotoxins. This is the second article in a series of three which puts the impact of mycotoxin contamination under the magnifying glass.

Immune suppression

As mentioned in the previous article, most mycotoxins are classified as immune suppressants. Mycotoxins also cause inflammation as a result of the disruption of the intestinal wall, which allows pathogens access to the body. The immune system weakens continuously, resulting in energy costs that have a negative impact on production. Although the impact of mycotoxins is sometimes not obvious, sub-acute toxicosis can lead to enormous losses over time. Despite the physiological action of the mycotoxins themselves, research shows that high fungal counts, especially on pastures, may negatively influence palatability and intake, which can decrease production by up to 5%.

The invisible cost of mycotoxin contamination

Several studies across the world have proven the negative economic impact of mycotoxin contamination. Recent research in pigs has shown that the immune-suppressant effect of mycotoxins resulted in a decrease in average daily gain of 0,14  kg/day,  as well as a decrease in the daily intake of 0,12 kg/day.  It is however not only growth and feed intake that are affected. Zearalenone disrupts the endocrine system by copying the operation of estrogen, resulting in animals showing false heat and, in more serious incidences, even causing abortions.

Mycotoxin-contaminated feed can cause production losses of up to 1,6 ℓ of milk per cow per day in dairy cattle, as well as an increase in somatic cell count (SCC) of up to 39%. Together, these may result in losses of as much as R8,00 per cow per day.

dairy cow eating
Mycotoxin contamination can cause severe production losses in dairy cows (photo: Ilse Hugo).


Mycotoxin contamination does not only pose a threat to the sustainability of the livestock sector, but also to the safety of the food chain. Attempts by primary producers to improve profitability and effectiveness are hampered by the impact of mycotoxins and the immediate effect can be felt in their pockets. The growing need for affordable food worldwide forces each and every one of us to be aware of the impact of mycotoxin contamination and to limit it through the use of available technology. Profitability, productivity, and food security are closely intertwined and therefore the management of mycotoxins remains an important factor in order to realise these goals.

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