Antibiotic-free production can intensify mycotoxin challenges

  • Aspergillus mold contamination on field corn
  • Symptoms of fusarium contamination on yellow corn
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Poultry producers have long added antibiotics to the diet to overcome gut health challenges. However, based both on recent findings that doing so can cause antibiotic resistance and on increasing consumer demand for antibiotic-free poultry, many large producers are no longer using antibiotic growth promoters (AGP). While beneficial in one respect, it may leave the birds more susceptible to feed contaminants such as mycotoxins, resulting in performance losses and producer profitability. 

Mycotoxins in poultry production have been linked with classic clinical signs, such as mouth lesions caused by T-2 toxins, yellow liver from aflatoxins or gizzard erosions from cyclopiazonic acid. Action was only taken if one of those symptoms was clearly diagnosed. Recent studies, however, have indicated  that mycotoxins can directly affect gut integrity, opening the door to secondary infections, even when found in low to moderate levels in feed.

A paper by Antonissen et al. (2014) indicated that vomitoxin (DON) increases the percentage of birds with subclinical necrotic enteritis and causes barrier disruption and epithelial damage to the intestine. The increased permeability of the epithelium and lower protein absorption may stimulate growth of clostridium perfringens. The lower nutrient absorption and the risk of intestinal challenges may lead to performance losses.

Alltech, the global leader in mycotoxin management, has developed several tools to help poultry integrators overcome this problem. Our state-of-the-art Alltech 37+® mycotoxin analysis program is the most advanced system in the industry. Based at the Alltech Analytical Services Laboratory in Winchester, Kentucky, and utilizing LC/MS/MS technology, we conduct surveys worldwide. This enables us to determine the overall risks in feedstuffs and provide customers with species-specific risk assessments.

Alltech 37+® mycotoxin analysis has tested more than 9,000 samples and found one or more mycotoxins in over 98 percent of samples. In North American samples, the DON group and fusaric acid are the most prevalent mycotoxins in feedstuffs. Even when present at low to moderate levels and without classic signs of mycotoxin challenges, poultry are still susceptible to mycotoxin attacks on gut integrity. According to Dr. Johanna Fink-Gremmels of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, roughly 60 to 80 percent of the bird’s immune system is in the intestines. Any challenge could have a direct impact on overall bird health and vaccine response.

While the poultry industry’s positive move to antibiotic-free production is encouraged, implementation of a mycotoxin management program before challenges arise is highly recommended.  Successful antibiotic-free production requires mitigating any potential health threats where possible, and the powerful threat of mycotoxin contamination must not be overlooked.