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Ochratoxin Regulations Coming For Canadian Grains

“As we go forward there are going to be more and more regulators around the world paying attention and the marketers of your grain are going to be paying more and more attention with what you do, as producers, on your farm in terms of storage, in terms of following the label when using pesticides.”

– CAM DAHL

Alot of western grain farmers have never heard of ochratoxin A (OTA), but they soon will, predicts Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) commissioner Cam Dahl.

“It’s going to have a significant impact… and it’s something you’re going to have to pay attention to,” Dahl warned farmers attending Winter Cereals Manitoba’s annual meeting here March 10.

OTA is a mycotoxin caused by fungi that when consumed can cause cancer as well as damage the liver and kidneys.

“Unlike fusarium (head blight, which can cause mycotoxins too) when you combine at the end of harvest you know how much you have, but ochratoxin develops in storage so you might not be aware that there’s a problem,” Dahl said.

OTA develops in warm, moist conditions, but can grow at temperatures as low as 3C.

The European Union (EU) already limits how much OTA is allowed in food products and the rest of the world, including Canada, is setting tolerances too.

Health Canada proposes the maximum tolerance in raw cereal grains be five parts per billion (ppb) and three in grains being directly consumed by humans. One part per billion is the equivalent of one corn kernel in a 90-tonne rail car, Dahl said.

“So that’s not very much.”

OTA is more commonly found in oats and durum wheat, but it also infects spr ing wheat , bar ley and rye.

OTA is also found in coffee, grapes, raisins, wine, beer, soy infant formula and even some meat products, Dahl said.

Health Canada’s website says OTA “is ubiquitous and consumed at very low levels on a daily basis by most Canadians, confirming earlier findings…that this toxin is present at low levels in 100 per cent of Canadian human sera.” Children are more at risk because of their lower body weight.

The health risk is low, according to Health Canada, but it says exposure to OTA needs to be reduced and that’s why tolerances are being proposed.

The CGC has monitored OTA for years, Dahl said. Between 2000 and 2005 on average around two per cent of western wheat shipments contained OTA levels of five parts per billion or more, according to CGC statistics. In 2002-03 more than five per cent of wheat exports contained five ppb or more OTA, but the previous two crop years none of the shipments hit five ppb.

During those same five years close to six per cent of durum shipments contained five ppb or more OTA. In 2003-04 almost 15 per cent of durum shipments had OTA levels of five ppb or more.

“These issue are going to become more and more important,” Dahl said. “As we go forward there are going to be more and more regulators around the world paying attention and the marketers of your grain are going to be paying more and more attention with what you do, as producers, on your farm in terms of storage, in terms of following the label when using pesticides.” [email protected]

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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