Mycotoxins are toxic compounds produced by different types of fungus, belonging mainly to the Aspergillus, Penicillium and Fusarium genera. Under favourable environmental conditions, when temperature and moisture are conducive, these fungi proliferate and may produce mycotoxins. They commonly enter the food chain through contaminated food and feed crops, mainly cereals.
The presence of mycotoxins in food and feed may affect human and animal health as they may cause many different adverse health effects such as induction of cancer and mutagenicity, as well as estrogenic, gastrointestinal and kidney disorders. Some mycotoxins are also immunosuppressive reducing resistance to infectious disease.
EFSA collects and evaluates occurrence data on mycotoxins in food and feed. It also prepares guidance for applicants on how to conduct the safety and efficacy assessment of feed additives that help to reduce the contamination of feed by mycotoxins.
EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) provides risk managers with scientific advice to inform their decision-making on the setting of maximum levels of mycotoxins (such as ochratoxin A, deoxynivalenol or zearalenone) in food and feed. It looks at the related risks posed to human and animal health and may sets Tolerable Daily Intakes for various mycotoxins. With regard to mycotoxins in feed, the CONTAM Panel also considers the level of carry over from feed to foods of animal origin and identifies feed materials which could be considered as sources of exposure. EFSA’s work on aflatoxins, a type of mycotoxin found in ready-to-eat almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios, is detailed in a separate topic.
EFSA staff ensures the continuity of data collection on mycotoxins, integrating newly generated occurrence data into existing databases and supporting the creation of new ones.
The Panel on Additives and Products or Substances Used in Animal Feed carries out related work on the safety for animals of feed additives containing substances used to reduce the contamination of feed by mycotoxins. EFSA has also delivered advice on the guidelines to be followed for the submission of applications for the authorisation of this kind of feed additive.
Main work in progress
Requests for EFSA opinions on human and animal health risks related to the following mycotoxins in food and feed:
EFSA provides scientific advice and risk assessments on mycotoxins for EU risk managers to help them assess the need for regulatory measures as regards the safety of mycotoxin-contaminated food and feed. In particular, EFSA is required to:
- Evaluate the toxicity of mycotoxins for humans and animals considering all relevant toxicological information available
- Assess human and animal exposure using occurrence data, in particular, from monitoring activities in EU Member States
- Consider the exposure for specific population groups e.g. infants and children, people following specific diets
- Consider the exposure of different animal species such as farm animals, fish and companion animals (pets and horses)
- Make research recommendations for the collection of further data on mycotoxins that enable the refinement of risk assessments.
EU legislation protects consumers by:
- Setting maximum levels for mycotoxins in food and feed to ensure they are not harmful to human or animal health
- Keeping mycotoxin levels as low as reasonably achievable following recommended good agricultural, storage and processing practices.
Maximum levels for mycotoxins and certain other contaminants in food are set in Regulation (EC) 1881/2006 and subsequent amendments. Provisions for methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of mycotoxins were introduced in Regulation (EC) 401/2006.
- Regulation (EC) 1881/2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs
- Regulation (EC) 401/2006 on the official control of the levels of mycotoxins in foodstuffs
Directive 2002/32/EC establishes the maximum levels of contaminants, including mycotoxins, permitted in feed. Due to the wide year-to-year variation and the limited carry-over from food to feed of Fusarium toxins and ochratoxin A, a two-step approach was adopted for these mycotoxins in Recommendation 2006/576/EC.