CAST Provides Comprehensive Report on Mycotoxins

January 1, 2003

For Immediate Release: January 2003

CAST Provides Comprehensive Report on Mycotoxins

Includes Mycotoxin Risks to Plants, Animals, and Humans

January 2003 . . .Washington, D.C. . . . The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) is releasing a scientific task force report, Mycotoxins: Risks in Plant, Animal, and Human Systems. This new report provides policymakers and others with the most complete current information on mycotoxins, along with recommendations for minimizing their risks to plants, animals, and humans. This comprehensive report, a collaborative effort by 38 international scientists, covers the mycotoxin-producing fungi; mycotoxin control in crops, foods, and feeds; mycotoxin-caused disease in humans and animals; mycotoxin testing, control, and international regulation; economics; and research and policy recommendations.

"We are just beginning to realize the impacts and to be able to assess the economic burden that a few mycotoxins cause in the United States through losses in commodity quality and health of livestock. In the United States alone, it is estimated that the economic costs resulting from mycotoxins exceed 1.4 billion dollars. These economic aspects are examined in this new CAST report," said Dr. John L. Richard of Romer Labs, Inc. of Union, Missouri and cochair of the task force of scientists who prepared the CAST report. "We also know that there are numerous other mycotoxins throughout the world that have similar economic effects and threaten the health of humans, and these also must be addressed to assess the full impact of mycotoxins on a worldwide basis."

Mycotoxins, some of which cause cancer, threaten food safety. Increasing globalization of trade also adds a new dimension to the importance of mycotoxins not only as toxins, but also as trade barriers among countries. Mycotoxins also must be considered as possible bioterrorism agents.

"Because changing agricultural practices often impact fungal growth and mycotoxin production, we must maintain a close watch on our food supplies for new and re-emerging mycotoxin problems," said CAST cochair Dr. Gary A. Payne of North Carolina State University. "Developing technologies such as genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics will provide us with new tools to better understand mycotoxin production by fungi, identify biomarkers for exposure, and develop novel control strategies."

The CAST report makes recommendations in seven areas of research and public policy to provide a safer food and feed supply in the twenty-first century.

  • Public Policy: Develop uniform standards and regulations for mycotoxin contamination; support joint international cooperation (FAO/WHO/UNEP) to adopt standardized regulations; and develop a safe food supply for local populations.


  • Mycotoxin Detection: Develop new technologies for mycotoxin analysis and improve detection (with specificity) of mycotoxins in prepared foods, and develop biomarkers for human and animal exposure to single and multiple mycotoxins.


  • Human and Animal Interactions: Assess mycotoxins as virulence factors; research effect of mycotoxins as immunosuppressors; evaluate toxicological interactions of toxins with the host; examine population variation for sensitivity to mycotoxins; assess interactions among mycotoxins and with drugs, diet, and nutrition; assess role of fumonisins on humans and their involvement in esophageal cancer; and assess risks of ochratoxin exposure due to its occurrence in a variety of foods and environmental loci.


  • Plant and Fungus Interactions: Establish a better understanding of the factors affecting mycotoxin formation in the field and in storage, improve understanding of the ecology and epidemiology of mycotoxin-producing fungi, develop sound agronomic-management practices to decrease mycotoxin contamination, develop host-plant resistance to mycotoxin-producing fungi and to mycotoxin occurrence, develop models to better forecast the potential of mycotoxin contamination, and research the genetic regulation and biosynthesis of mycotoxins by the producing organisms.


  • Indoor Air Quality: Determine mycotoxins responsible for indoor air-quality problems, develop sound sampling protocols for assessing fungal populations, and establish limits for respiratory exposure to mycotoxins.


  • Economics of Mycotoxin Contamination: Develop accurate loss estimates for mycotoxin contamination.


  • Bioterrorism: Assess potential for use of mycotoxins as bioterrorism agents and assess mycotoxin-producing fungi as bioterrorism-agent candidates.

The complete report, Mycotoxins: Risks in Plant, Animal, and Human Systems, 200 pp., is available at along with CAST's many other scientific works. CAST is an international consortium of 37 scientific and professional societies. CAST assembles, interprets, and communicates science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally on food, fiber, agricultural, natural resource, and related societal and environmental issues to its stakeholders - legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.