The mycotoxins of most concern from a food safety perspective include the aflatoxins (B1, B2, G1, G2 and M1), ochratoxin A, patulin and toxins produced by Fusarium moulds, including fumonisins (B1, B2 and B3), trichothecenes (principally nivalenol, deoxynivalenol, T-2 and HT-2 toxin) and zearalenone.
Mycotoxins can cause a variety of adverse health effects in humans. Aflatoxins, including aflatoxin B1 are the most toxic and have been shown to be genotoxic i.e. can damage DNA and cause cancer in animal species. There is also evidence that they can cause liver cancer in humans. Other mycotoxins have a range of other health effects including kidney damage, gastrointestinal disturbances, reproductive disorders or suppression of the immune system. For most mycotoxins, a tolerable daily intake (TDI) has been established, which estimates the quantity of mycotoxin which someone can be exposed to daily over a lifetime without it posing a significant risk to health.
In order to protect consumer safety, rules and strict legislative limits for aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, patulin and Fusarium toxins in certain foodstuffs are set out in European Commission legislation. The legislation applies to the specified foods whether they are imported into the UK or produced in the UK. In addition, there are a number of special import conditions currently in place for some foods from certain third countries where the risk from aflatoxin contamination is increased, which further improves consumer protection.
The Agency has produced several pieces of guidance and advice to industry including farmers to advise them on the agronomic and storage practices to help to reduce the contamination of cereals with mycotoxins and therefore the likelihood of exceeding the current European legal limits.