In the past, fumonisins were not considered a threat to the poultry industry. However, recent investigations have revealed that these toxic metabolites have an impact on birds’ immune and digestive systems. Even low levels of fumonisins can predispose birds to metabolic and immunologic disorders due to the high sensitivity of the intestinal tract.
The annual BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey repeatedly demonstrates that fumonisins can be found all around the world. They rank as the top mycotoxin group present in over two thirds of all Latin American commodities tested. Fumonisin occurrence in Latin American corn, the main feed component for poultry, has become quite common in recent years and the trend shows an increase in concentrations. Levels have been observed at 2000 ppb for fumonisin B1 alone, and reaching 7000 ppb for total fumonisins in a single corn sample.
Effects of fumonisins in poultry: latest research
Fumonisins block the synthesis of complex sphingolipids, the sphingoid bases sphinganine (Sa) and sphingosine (So), which play an important role in protecting nerves, muscles and membranes. The biomarker Sa/So ratio expresses the sphinganine to sphingosine levels in the serum and is a key indicator for fumonisin exposure that can be used to assess the threat posed to the animal. However, co-contamination of commodities may play an additional role in toxicity. The interaction between fumonisins and other mycotoxins may result in so-called synergism that intensifies the effects caused by single toxins.
Current evidence has revealed that the ingestion of fumonisins at levels below the EU recommended value (20 ppb for poultry) can affect the expression of proteins related to pro- and anti-inflammatory responses in the intestinal tract of broilers. Levels of 20 ppb of fumonisins induce a higher excretion of Eimeria, the parasites responsible for coccidiosis. In large-scale farms, this may promote parasite transmission between birds due to the high density of the animals.
Field experience in Peru
In a Peruvian poultry farm, flocks were experiencing a significant decrease in weight gain, feed conversion declined and there was an increase in the weight of the kidneys and liver. Broiler chickens presented petechiae in muscles together with oral lesions, a typical symptom caused by T-2 toxin. A case of mycotoxicosis was diagnosed, as the serological analysis showed no significant alterations to infectious bursal disease, infectious chicken anemia or hepatitis. Mycotoxin analysis of the corn recorded overall fumonisin levels above 7000 ppb, confirming the diagnosis.
Results of scientific studies as well as the experience on the field indicate that fumonisins indeed represent a major risk to animal health. Immunosuppression, increased kidney and liver weight and a reduced feed conversion will ultimately lead to economic losses for the producer. An effective mycotoxin risk management is essential to help the animal face fumonisin-induced impairment of the immune and digestive systems.