Mycotoxins and the Dairy Industry

Dan Tracy, DVM


Mycotoxins are toxins that are produced by molds.  Molds that are discussed often as it relates to the dairy industry are Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Fusarium which can be found in forages and grains. Examples of the toxins produced are aflatoxins, vomitoxin, T-2, zearalenone, fumonisin, and ochratoxin.1  Aflatoxins produced by Aspergillus have cancer-causing properties and can be excreted in the milk (AFM1) which is a major concern in the dairy industry as it pertains to public health.2 As a result, aflatoxin levels in the milk are monitored and regulated.  Stored feeds such as corn silage can be contaminated preharvest, especially when the plant is stressed, and or environmental conditions favor mold growth. In addition, contamination can occur during harvest, transport or through improper storage. Dairy cattle are at increased risk because rations typically contain multiple sources of potentially affected feedstuffs. In dairy cattle, consumption of these toxins can have a negative impact on milk production, feed intake, gut health, immune function, and reproductive performance.1 Many forage labs have established methods and guidelines to evaluate forages and grains for the presence of mycotoxins.  Management strategies include eliminating or diluting the feedstuffs with high mycotoxin levels and or including “binders” to reduce the impact of the consumed toxin.

Mycotoxins, Trace Minerals and Oxidative Stress

Mycotoxin are thought to contribute to oxidative stress.3 Oxidants are harmful to cells but are a normal biological byproduct in the body and are kept in check by antioxidants. However, during times of stress, inflammation, or toxin challenge, more oxidants are produced. Oxidative stress occurs when production of oxidants overwhelms the antioxidant capacity of the body and this can lead to a compromised immune system. The Mycotoxins are also toxic and negatively affect organ systems as well. During an aflatoxin challenge, the liver works harder to break down the toxin, undergoes oxidative stress and more protein breakdown occurs in the liver. Trace minerals such as Zinc (Zn), Manganese (Mn), Selenium (Se) and Copper (Cu) play an important role in prevention of oxidative stress because they form part of specific antioxidant enzymes.4

Recently, a trial was conducted by the University of Illinois to evaluate the effects of an injectable trace mineral supplement, containing Zn, Mn, Se, and Cu (MULTIMIN® 90) during an aflatoxin challenge in lactating cows. This study showed that cows that were challenged with aflatoxins and received injectable trace minerals, had a better antioxidant response in their livers to help with the detoxifying process and to help minimize the amount of protein break down that occurs compared to cows that did not receive injectable trace minerals.5

Mycotoxins continue to be a concern of the dairy industry. Continual surveillance and feed management are essential in lessening the impact to health of dairy cattle. Utilizing an ITM may serve as an additional way to lessen the impact though providing the building blocks to maintain the antioxidant status of cattle.

Contact your MULTIMIN® USA Technical Sales Representative to learn more about how MULTIMIN® 90 can help your herd overcome aflatoxin challenges.


  1. Diaz, Durante and Jean-Pierre Jouany. Effects of Mycotoxins in Ruminants. [book auth.] Durante Diaz. [ed.] Durante Diaz. The Mycotoxin Blue Book. Nottinngham : Nottingham University Press, 2005, pp. 295-321.
  2. Galvano, Fabio, Alberto Ritieni, Gianfranco Piva, and Amedeo Pietri. Mycotoxins in the Human Food Chain. [book auth.] Duarte Diaz. The Mycotoxin Blue Book. Nottingham : s.n., 2005.
  3. Surai, Peter F., and Julia E. Dvorska. Effects of Mycotoxins on Antioxidant Status and Immunity. [book auth.] Duarte Diaz. The Mycotoxin Blue Book. Nottingham : s.n., 2005.
  4. Suttle, Neville. Mineral Nutrition of Livestock 4th Edition. Cambridge : CABI, 2010. 978-1-84593-427-9.
  5. Injectable trace minerals (selenium, copper, zinc, and manganese) alleviate inflammation and oxidative stress during an aflatoxin.Pate, R.T. and F. C. Cardoso. 2018, Journal of Dairy Science, pp. 8532-8543.