Mycotoxin and Heavy Metal in Feed Raise Questions on Food Safety and Regulations

A major controversy erupted for animal feed in 2021 after the deaths of thousands of birds, with claims that the feed was to blame.  Following long-awaited testing in 2022, given that a small number of feed samples tested positive for mycotoxins and metals above permissible levels, it was impossible to determine with certainty what in the feed caused the morbidity and mortality in birds.

However, while mycotoxins and metals may not have caused the deaths of the birds, their presence in many of the feed samples leads to questions on food safety in Bhutan. This is because the same feeds are given to chickens and cows in Bhutan whose products from egg to milk to meat are consumed by people.

It is entirely possible that these toxins and metals accumulated over a period of time are transmitted to us when we eat the products of these animals.

At the time a total of seventy-five (75) feed samples from suspected batches of Karma Feeds were referred to different laboratories, both inside and outside the country.

Mycotoxins were found in 21 of the 42 samples examined, according to the results of the laboratory testing. However, the number of samples that went over the limit was only seven. Out of the mycotoxins requested for testing, only aflatoxins, fumonisin, and ochratoxin could be examined. The test was run in labs in Thailand and India.

All 43 samples tested had one or more heavy metals, although the levels were within the maximum tolerated limits, with the exception of chromium in one sample. In samples examined by laboratories in Bhutan, India, and Thailand, heavy metals were found.

People are concerned about long-term impacts despite the report’s lack of conclusion. Concerns are raised over the long-term consumption of contaminants by animals and their impacts on us as experts point out potential health risks.

According to the World Health Organisation, heavy metals are mostly released as a result of several industrial processes and aid in soil deposition and buildup. Because they remain in the environment, heavy metals can bioaccumulate in food chains.

Kidney and bone damage are linked to cadmium exposure. Additionally, cadmium has been noted as a probable lung cancer-causing agent in humans. Lead exposure affects a child’s development and neurobehavioral functioning as well as raising blood pressure in adults. Although methylmercury, which accumulates in the food chain and is the major way that humans are exposed to mercury, is hazardous, the main worry is related to the organic molecules. Mercury is dangerous in both its elemental and inorganic forms.

Similar to that, mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins created by specific moulds (fungi) that can be found in food, according to the World Health Organisation.

Mycotoxins can have a wide range of harmful health consequences and present a major health risk to both people and animals.

Mycotoxins can have negative health impacts that range from immediate poisoning to long-term consequences like cancer and immune system deficiencies.

With mounting evidence suggesting long-term consumption of these contaminants can lead to health issues, individuals are beginning to voice their worries.

Consumers are getting more and more worried about the quality and safety of the food they eat as public knowledge of these issues rises and information becomes more readily available. Many are calling for stronger laws, clearer labels, and more thorough testing for toxins in products.

“I usually try to feed my family organic produce,” a former nurse and a mother said, however she wonders how organic her products really are.

A private sector employee asked that even if the metals and mycotoxins are in permissible limits for the animals it cannot be good for the humans that consume them. He asked why there is no testing to at least try and find out the impact of various pollutants in feeds on livestock and its impact on humans who consume the same livestock products.

The Department of Livestock reports that no additional laboratory tests have been conducted after the incident at Karma Feed in 2021 to determine whether or if the substance is still present in the feeds. It was claimed, this was brought about by a lack of resources and equipment.

Despite the odds, the Department of Livestock tests ingredients including protein, lipids, fibers, and minerals to ensure the quality of feed.

The Department of Livestock anticipates receiving the equipment before the end of the year and will start testing for mycotoxins and heavy metals in feed. The Department has also suggested to the Agriculture Ministry that Bhutan establish national acceptable boundaries or criteria for food now.

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