As ethanol production rises, so do mycotoxin problems

DDGS present increased concentrations of mycotoxins
January 24, 2007

As ethanol production rises, so do mycotoxin problems

While Americans search for cheaper fuel, the damages wrought on the animal agriculture industry is far-reaching.  As has been well-documented, the demand for ethanol is booming throughout the United States and, as a result, raising the price of corn globally.  To offset the rise in prices, farmers are using the by-product from ethanol production, dried distiller’s grains with solubles (DDGS) to feed their animals.  While this is a great source of protein, it can also present several challenges.  One of the most serious challenges is the increased concentration of mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins are toxic materials in grains that are harmful when fed to animals.  Even in low doses, mycotoxins can cause such production challenges as reduced feed intake, lameness, slowed growth rates, and in rare cases, death.  Mycotoxins are naturally-occurring toxins found in the grain caused by problems such as drought and improper ensiling.  The toxins are stored in the fibrous outer shell of corn and are typically present in very minute amounts.

With the increase in ethanol production, an increase in mycotoxin problems is sure to follow.  During ethanol production, the distillation process extracts the starch from the inner part of the kernel.  It is this energy source that aids in the fermentation and ultimately gives us the high energy liquid, ethanol.  The unused portion of this process is the distiller’s grains with solubles, which can either be dried (DDGS) or wet (WDGS).  However, since mycotoxins are stored in this outer shell, the concentration of mycotoxins can become quite high.

According to Dr. James Pierce, coordinator of monogastric nutrition at Alltech, there is no “safe” level of mycotoxins in feed. “There are regulated limits on mycotoxins, but the discovery of one in your grain does not tell you if that is the only one,” Pierce said. “Also, they seem to work in synergy thus compounding their negative effects.”  This can create a dilemma in the field and leave an economic impact on producers.

Today’s feed manufacturers and producers need to be particularly cognizant of potential mycotoxin problems.  Since DDGS and WDGS are by-products of ethanol production, distillers typically do not closely monitor the mycotoxin levels.  This could lead to a potentially devastating feed source. 

While there is no known way to prevent the formation of mycotoxins, Pierce has a few suggestions for producers to battle fungal growth. “Proper drying and storage techniques are a good defense,” Pierce said. “Also, the use of a quality mycotoxin control agent is essential to ensure animal health.”

Mycotoxins are a leading area of study at Alltech. Since 1980, Alltech’s presence has grown with offices and distributors in 85 countries and more than 1,800 employees around the world.  For more information, contact your local Alltech representative or visit