One of the most common mycotoxins to contaminate corn and corn products worldwide is fumonisin. Fumonisin is a natural byproduct of fusarium fungi, which prosper in soil and on plants.
In the Midwest region of the United States it is referred to as Fumonisin Ear Rot. Like other mycotoxins, fumonisin poses dangers to animals and humans through the food, feed and pet food supply chains.
Fusarium’s wide geographic distribution is due to its ability to survive in a variety of climates, temperatures, and humidity levels. Although fumonisin has been identified at low levels in other crops, corn is most susceptible and in the most need of fumonisin analysis.
Fumonisin was discovered during research studies on outbreaks of esophageal cancer in Africa in the 1980s. This discovery is relatively recent compared to other mycotoxins, such as aflatoxin, ochratoxin, deoxynivalenol (DON / vomitoxin), T-2/HT-2 and zearalenone (F-2) [link]. The body of knowledge about fumonisin is still small, and scientists are continuing to learn more about its structure and effects.
Several disorders in animals and humans are linked to fumonisin ingestion.
In humans, fumonisin is linked with esophageal cancer. In animals including horses, swine, poultry and cattle it has caused everything from heart and liver damage to impaired growth and kidney and liver cancer. Symptoms in horses include drowsiness, staggering and liquefaction of brain tissue.
Classified as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, strict regulations for fumonisin levels in food have been established in many countries including the United States, underscoring the need for corn growers and corn processers to use reliable fumonisin testing technology. United States regulators include the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Fumonisin testing has found that ninety percent of fields in the United States are contaminated with some level of fumonisin. All seven continents have contaminated crops.
It is particularly important to test for fumonisin in corn because this mycotoxin is often not identifiable with sight tests. Although low levels of fumonisin do not have significant effects on humans or animals, if fumonisin levels increase to 5 ppm or more there could be severe health consequences.
Scientists and growers have attempted to breed corn varieties that have resistance to fumonisin. Although certain varieties do have heritable resistance, no resistant genotypes are currently known and scientists have found it difficult to incorporate genes for resistance into genetically modified corn varieties.
Testing for fumonisin helps to maintain crop quality, avoid contamination, reduce health risks, and prevent economic impact to commodities markets, especially corn.