Wheat, like other plants, can be attacked by a range of fungal pathogens which cause disease. Some of these also produce mycotoxins which are poisonous chemical compounds. There are five groups of mycotoxins found in food but only a few are regularly encountered on wheat. Mycotoxins have great significance in the health of both humans and livestock.
The mycotoxins of greatest significance on wheat are those produced by the head blight fungi on the growing crop (Fusarium graminearum and Fusarium culmorum). These are deoxynivalenol (DON) and zearalenone (ZON). Another mycotoxin, ochratoxin A (OTA) is produced by the fungi Penicillium and Aspergillus which may grow in stores. Ergot alkaloids are produced by the fungal pathogen Claviceps purpurea, although this affects rye more severely than wheat.
The cereals supply chain is vigilant in checking for the presence of these mycotoxins. A number of industry monitoring programmes exist to check for those which have maximum permitted levels in order to ensure they do not enter the human food chain.
nabim is a key contributor to the UK Mycotoxin Stakeholder Group made up of representatives from the cereals processing industry, the NFU and the AHDB. The group meets at appropriate times to discuss mycotoxin levels and future control strategies in order to generate awareness and preparedness for potential mycotoxin issues.