Maximum level for rye ergot

A maximum level of 1000 ^g/g of rye ergot (Claviceps purpurea) sclerotia was established by Directive 2002/32/EC for all feeds containing unground cereals. The Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain of EFSA adopted an opinion on request from the Commission related to ergot as undesirable substance in animal feed on 19 April 2005 (33).

The term ergot refers to fungal structures produced by Claviceps species that develop in place of kernels on grain ears or seeds on grass heads, which are visible as large discolored sclerotia. These sclerotia contain different classes of alkaloids, the most prominent being ergometrine, ergotamine, ergosine, ergocristine, ergocryptine and ergocornine and their related -inines. The amount and toxin pattern produced vary by fungal strain and depend on the host plant and the geographic region. At present, the degree of variation in ergot alkaloid pattern in relation to fungal species, its geographic distribution, and its relation to the host plant, e.g., the alkaloid pattern in rye ergot is different from that in grass ergot, is not known. More data are needed to identify all of the major factors responsible for the variation in ergot alkaloid patterns in individual plant species.

Ergot alkaloids (ergolines) have toxic effects in all animal species. Data on the sensitivity of agricultural animal species towards ergot alkaloids are incomplete and do not suffice for the establishment of tolerance levels for individual ergot alkaloids or mixtures thereof. The available data indicate that adverse effects may occur in agricultural animals, particularly in pigs, after intake of feed contaminated with ergot at levels close to the current maximum levels. Physical determination of the rye ergot contamination rate of feeds often is inaccurate, as the size and the weight of the sclerotia may vary considerably. Moreover, this physical determination is impossible to make in processed feeds. Hence, in addition to control by physical methods, control by chemical analysis of potentially contaminated feed materials also has been suggested, as various chromatographic methods are available to detect ergot alkaloids in feeds. The methods are limited, however, to only a relatively few ergot alkaloids.

Table 5. Maximum levels (ng/g) for aflatoxin B1 in feeds with a moisture content of 12%.

Product(s) intended for animal feed Maximum _level

All feed materials 20 Complete feeds:

Cattle, sheep and goats except for: 20

Dairy animals 5

Calves and lambs 10

Pigs and poultry (except young animals) 20

Other complete feeds 10 Complementary feeds:

Cattle, sheep and goats, except for dairy animals, 20

calves and lambs

Pigs and poultry (except young animals) 20

Other complementary feeds_5

At present, the data on the toxicological properties of individual ergot alkaloids are too limited to confirm that the ergot alkaloids that can be measured by chromatographic analytical methods are the most relevant toxic compounds. Data on the toxicity of individual ergot alkaloids are scarce, as animals, under field conditions, are exposed to complex mixtures of varying composition of ergot alkaloids depending on the fungal strain, the host plant and/or environmental factors. These possibilities imply that at present neither the total alkaloid content, nor any single alkaloid can be recommended as reliable indicator of the potential adverse effects on livestock associated with the ingestion of ergot-contaminated feeds. The limited data on tissue distribution and residual concentrations in edible tissues, milk and eggs are insufficient to estimate carry-over rates. There is, however, no evidence that ergot alkaloids accumulate in edible tissues. Levels of alkaloids measured in animal tissues so far indicate that these tissues are unlikely to be an important source of human exposure to ergot alkaloids. More data are needed on the presence of these ergot alkaloids, not only in unground cereals but also in processed cereals and compound feeds, to obtain reliable data on the ergot alkaloid patterns occurring in feeds and to correlate the presence of ergot alkaloids to the amount of sclerotia present. This monitoring should focus on the six most common ergot alkaloids, i.e., ergometrine, ergotamine, ergosine, ergocristine, ergocryptine and ergocornine.

Based on the available data, a provisional relationship between the amount of sclerotia and the level of these individual ergot alkaloids can be established. In particular, the levels of individual ergot alkaloids corresponding to a content of 1 g of rye ergot sclerotia are 600 ^g for ergocristine, 300 ^g for ergotamine and 100 ^g for ergocryptine, ergometrine, ergosine and ergocornine. This relationship includes a high level of uncertainty/variation and more reliable data are required to establish these relationships with certainty.

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