The aptly-named nightmare toxin in this year’s corn crop is actually the byproduct of a mould or fungus that’s very fond of wet corn. Vomitoxin is a type of mycotoxin, a broad category of toxic chemicals that moulds produce. Vomitoxin gets its name from its results. At high levels, it causes animals to vomit and it is especially a problem in hogs.
Sows are especially sensitive to vomitoxin levels in their feed. In low quantities, the toxic chemical puts them off their feed, and farmers have to supplement their rations to make sure the animals get enough nutrients.
In cattle, even low amounts of vomitoxin can affect the animals’ immune systems, particularly in younger animals, according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs.
In dairy animals, mouldy feed, even without detectable vomitoxin levels, can lower milk production by as much as 10 per cent.
In a wet year, like this one, vomitoxin can proliferate before the crop is even harvested. But even after it’s in the bin, vomitoxin can become a problem. If oxygen can get into stored grain, the mold can flourish and vomitoxin levels can rise.
Vomitoxin is invisible. A crop with unmarketable levels of vomitoxin and a crop completely free of it can look exactly the same. The only way to find out if this toxic chemical is in your crop is to test the crop.