Mycotoxin Contamination Increases the Costs of Poultry Production

Necrotic enteritis (NE) is a disease found worldwide wherever chickens are farmed and could now be costing the commercial poultry industry up to $6 billion annually1. Caused by the bacterium Clostridium perfringens, which causes lesions in the intestine, this costly clinical disease can also lead to a flock mortality of 1 percent per day.

NE is known to affect broilers, laying hens, turkeys and quail. The clinical form of the disease is most commonly seen in 2- to 5-week-old broilers, where symptoms may include severe depression, decreased appetite, dark-colored diarrhea, closed eyes and ruffled feathers. Symptoms are short-lived because affected birds deteriorate rapidly from the inside out and die quickly.

However, the subclinical form of NE is particularly costly, manifesting itself only in slightly depressed growth rates and feed conversion efficiency, and it often goes undetected.

The likely contributing factor? Mycotoxin contamination.

Many factors influence the occurrence and severity of NE on poultry, but nutritionists now know that feed contaminated with mycotoxins, particularly fumonisins and deoxynivalenol (DON), can affect gut health and function,” said Dr. Alexandra Weaver, mycotoxin management expert at Alltech. “Their presence may also interfere with the efficacy of coccidiosis vaccines.”

The poultry industry is facing an evolving risk from mycotoxins over time, Weaver added.

“Alltech 37+® mycotoxin analyses of more than 1,000 U.S. corn samples over five years shows that although the frequency of mycotoxins associated with NE have been stable (between 60 and 80 percent of samples), the average contamination level has increased quite a bit,” she said.

“The average concentration of type B trichothecenes (DON group of mycotoxins) in U.S. corn has increased markedly over the last three years and is now a high risk for birds of 0–21 days of age,” she continued. “It’s a similar picture with fumonisin contamination, where almost 60 percent of corn samples from the 2017 U.S. harvest contained over 5 parts per million (ppm) of fumonisins (ref: Alltech 37+ charts).”

The fact that these critical mycotoxins are present at such significant levels means optimal intestinal health is under threat.

“There’s no doubt that the presence of mycotoxins may increase the occurrence and severity of NE and other intestinal disorders,” said Weaver. “What’s more, mycotoxins may confound the problem and hinder diagnosis. It’s now such an issue for the industry that sound in-feed mitigation of the mycotoxin threat is becoming increasingly important.”

1. The true cost of necrotic enteritis. (2015)

The Necrotic enteritis threat from fumonisins

  • Alters intestinal cell viability and proliferation

  • Induces the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines

  • Impacts intestinal barrier functions through changes to tight junction proteins

  • Compromises the intestinal mucus barrier

  • Increases the production of free radicals, causing an imbalance between pro-oxidant and antioxidant status, thus leading to oxidative stress and cell damage

  • Damages the epithelial barrier, increasing nutrient leakage and therefore nutrient availability for Clostridium bacteria; this can lead to an increased bacterial population

The Necrotic enteritis​​​​​​​ threat from deoxynivalenol (DON)

  •  Induces shortening of villi height

  • Alters the balance between proliferation and apoptosis of epithelial cells

  • Impacts tight junctions between epithelial cells

  • Compromises the intestinal mucus barrier

  • Damages the epithelial barrier, increasing nutrient leakage and therefore nutrient availability for Clostridium bacteria; this can then lead to an increased bacterial population