Mycotoxin Working Group

BETA Mycotoxin Working Group

Information for BETA members only

Whilst knowledge of the adverse effects of moulds on horses has long been documented, the issue of mycotoxins in equine diets has come to the fore more recently.  In fact, global interest in mycotoxins in human and animal food and feed has received more focus in recent years.

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites of fungal (mould) growth. They are produced by moulds to aid their survival either as a defence mechanism or to help the mould colonise its host.  Whilst several fungal species are capable of producing mycotoxins, it does not follow that they will always do so – conditions such as adverse climatic, harvest, drying or storage are known risk factors for mycotoxin production.  Once formed, mycotoxins are difficult to eradicate, whilst moulds have a finite life.  Therefore is it not a given that the presence of mould equates to a mycotoxin load, nor that the absence of mould indicates the absence of mycotoxins. 

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the World Heath Organisation (WHO) estimates that 25% of the world’s crops become contaminated with mycotoxins, either during growth, at harvest or during subsequent storage.

Over 400 different kinds of mycotoxins have been identified, broadly classified into six main groups - aflatoxins, tricothecenes, fumonisins, zearalenone, ochratoxin and ergot alkaloids, each formed by different kinds of fungi.   The table below gives some indication of which moulds produce which mycotoxins.


Mould Mycotoxin
Penicillium verrucosum  Ochratoxin A (formed in field and during storage in temperate regions)
Aspergillus ochraceus  Ochratoxin A (formed during storage in tropical regions)
Fusarium spp.  Zearalenone (formed during harvesting)
Fusarium graminearum, F Culmorum Deoxynivalenol & Nivalenol (formed in the field)
Fusarium langsethiae T2 and HT2
Fusarium moniliforme  Fumonisins (grow on senescent or stressed plants)
Aspergillus flavus    Aflatoxin (formed in field and during storage)
Neotyphodium lolii  Lolitrem B (Formed in the field)
Neotyphodium spp. Ergot alkaloids


Whilst moulds have long been associated in horses with respiratory irritation and allergy, particularly in relation to forage, it has been suggested more recently that mycotoxins produced by moulds can adversely effect appetite, digestive processes immunity and reproductive efficiency in horses.   Some mycotoxins such as fumonisins are well known to affect horses, but for other mycotoxins the level at which any potential negative effects office is less clear. 
Recognising the need for more clarity, the equine feed industry in the UK and Ireland, represented by the BETA Feed Committee has formed a working group to help provide more information on the complex subject of mycotoxins.
These pages contain information on the BETA mycotoxin project, together with some frequently asked questions on mycotoxins and some suggestions for further reading.  As we know more, these pages will be updated and information disseminated to all those with an interest in mycotoxins.
Aims and Objectives of the BETA Mycotoxin Working Group.

Project objective:
To provide information and guidance on mycotoxins to BETA feed members and to recommend further research topics in this area.

• To produce scientific and lay publications providing guidance on the risk of mycotoxins in equines and equine feedingstuffs.

• The informing of scientific and expert opinion regarding acceptable levels of mycotoxins in equine diets and feeding stuffs.

Strategies for achieving our goals:-

• Understand the mycotoxin risk - Work with scientists/trade bodies to document risk levels for key mycotoxins in horses and risk raw materials.

• Work with opinion formers - BETA to engage opinion formers in a BETA led “Expert Forum” to seek agreement on risk levels

• Education -Develop Mycotoxin understanding and awareness in equine feed industry. Publish guidance notes.

Working party and expert panel members

BETA Working Party
• Ruth Bishop,  Mars Horsecare UK Ltd (Chair)
• Claire Williams, Executive Director, BETA
• Chris Gordon, Dodson and Horrell Ltd
• Noel Brennan,  Connolly’s Red Mills
• Dr Catherine Dunnett, Independent Equine Nutrition
• Hilary Self, Hilton Herbs
• Jem Clay, Blue Chip
• Kate Jones, Natural Animal Feeds
• Katie Williams, Dengie Crops Ltd
• Alana White, SCA Nutec Ltd
• Ian Leach, Alltech UK Ltd

BETA Expert Forum Members
• Professor Dr Manfred Coenen, Institute of Animal Nutrition, Nutrition Diseases and Dietetics, Leipzig University
• Dr Simon Edwards, Harper Adams University College, UK
• Dr Tom Buckley, Irish Equine Centre, Naas, Ireland
• Dr Vivian Gath, MRCVS University College Dublin
• Professor Dr Johanna Fink, Utrecht University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine , Division Veterinary Pharmacology, Pharmacy and Toxicology

Further reading

References in scientific journals

(Barnett et al. 1995; Miles et al. 1996; Raymond et al. 2000; Juhasz et al. 2001; Raymond et al. 2003; Newman 2005; Raymond et al. 2005; Kabak et al. 2006; Leung et al. 2006; Magan 2006; Schatzmayr et al. 2006; Zheng et al. 2006; Binder 2007; Binder et al. 2007; Buckley 2007; Fink-Gremmels and Malekinejad 2007; Morgavi and Riley 2007; Nollet et al. 2007; Fuchs et al. 2008)

Barnett, D. T., R. A. Mowery, et al. (1995). The correlation of selected mycotoxins to the incidence of colic in horses. Proc. 14th Equine Nutrition and Physiology Symposium.

Binder, E. M. (2007). Managing the risk of mycotoxins in modern feed production. Animal Feed Science and Technology 133(1-2): 149-166.

Binder, E. M., L. M. Tan, et al. (2007). Worldwide occurrence of mycotoxins in commodities, feeds and feed ingredients. Animal Feed Science and Technology 137(3-4): 265-282.

Buckley, T. C. (2007). Analysis of Canadian and Irish forage, oats and commercially available equine concentrate feed for pathogenic fungi and mycotoxins. Irish Veterinary Journal 60(4): 231-234.
Edwards, S (2007), Investigation of Fusarium mycotoxins in UK barley and oat production.  HGCA  Project report no. 415.

Fink-Gremmels, J. and H. Malekinejad (2007). Clinical effects and biochemical mechanisms associated with exposure to the mycoestrogen zearalenone. Animal Feed Science and Technology 137(3-4): 326-341.

Fuchs, S., G. Sontag, et al. (2008). Detoxification of patulin and ochratoxin A, two abundant mycotoxins, by lactic acid bacteria. Food and Chemical Toxicology 46(4): 1398-1407.

Juhasz, J., P. Nagy, et al. (2001). Effect of certain mycotoxis contaminating feedstuff (zearalenone, T-2 toxin) and dexamethasone on the reproductive function of horses. Summary report of a research program. Egyes takarma?nyszennyezo mikotoxinok (zearalenon, T-2 toxin) e?s a dexametazon hata?sa a lovak szaporoda?sbiolo?giai folyamataira: Kutata?si program eredme?nyeinek o?sszefoglalo? ismertete?se 123(8): 475-482.

Kabak, B., A. D. W. Dobson, et al. (2006). Strategies to prevent mycotoxin contamination of food and animal feed: A review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 46(8): 593-619.

Leung, M. C. K., G. Diaz-Llano, et al. (2006). Mycotoxins in pet food: A review on worldwide prevalence and preventative strategies. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 54(26): 9623-9635.

Magan, N. (2006). Mycotoxin contamination of food in Europe: Early detection and prevention strategies. Mycopathologia 162(3): 245-253.

Miles, C. O., G. A. Lane, et al. (1996). High levels of ergonovine and lysergic acid amide in toxic Achnatherum inebrians accompany infection by an Acremonium-like endophytic fungus. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 44(5): 1285-1290.

Morgavi, D. P. and R. T. Riley (2007). An historical overview of field disease outbreaks known or suspected to be caused by consumption of feeds contaminated with Fusarium toxins. Animal Feed Science and Technology 137(3-4): 201-212.

Newman, K E and Raymond S L (2005) Effects of Mycotoxins in Horses.  In: The Mycotoxin  Blue Book.  Edited by Duarte Diaz  Nottingham University Press pp 57-76

Newman, K. E. (2005). Mycotoxins in equine diets: the difference between win, place and show. Nutritional biotechnology in the feed and food industry.  Proceedings of Alltech's 21st annual symposium, Lexington, Kentucky, Nottingham University Press.

Nollet, H., K. Vanschandevijl, et al. (2007). First confirmed case of ryegrass staggers in horses in Belgium. Eerste geval van raaigraskramp bij paarden in Belgie 76(5): 355-358.

Raymond, S. L., M. Heiskanen, et al. (2000). An investigation of the concentrations of selected fusarium mycotoxins and the degree of mold contamination of field-dried hay. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 20(10): 616-621.

Raymond, S. L., T. K. Smith, et al. (2003). Effects of feeding a blend of grains naturally contaminated with Fusarium mycotoxins on feed intake, serum chemistry, and hematology of horses, and the efficacy of a polymeric glucomannan mycotoxin adsorbent. Journal of Animal Science 81(9): 2123-2130.

Raymond, S. L., T. K. Smith, et al. (2005). Effects of feeding a blend of grains naturally contaminated with Fusarium mycotoxins on feed intake, metabolism, and indices of athletic performance of exercised horses. Journal of Animal Science 83(6): 1267-1273.

Schatzmayr, G., F. Zehner, et al. (2006). Microbiologicals for deactivating mycotoxins. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 50(6): 543-551.

Scudamore, K A, H Baillie, S Patel, & S G Edwards (2007).  Occurrence and fate of Fusarium  mycotoxins during commercial processing of oats in the UK. Food Additives and  Contaminants, 24 (12) 1374-1385

Whitaker T B, A B Slate, A S Johannson (2005) Sampling Feeds for Mycotoxin Analysis.  In:  The Mycotoxin Blue Book.  Edited by Duarte Diaz  Nottingham University Press pp1 - 24

Zheng, M. Z., J. L. Richard, et al. (2006). A review of rapid methods for the analysis of mycotoxins. Mycopathologia 161(5): 261-273.

Feedstuffs Reference Issue (july 10th 2002) Mycotoxins in feeds


The Mycotoxin Blue Book. (2005) Edited by Duarte Diaz  Nottingham University Press

Website  Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs Molds, mycotoxins and their effect on horses.


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