Livestock feed contaminated with mycotoxins, pesticides, excessive minerals or other toxins can present a hazard to animals or to people who consume meat, milk or eggs from exposed animals. Aiming to help veterinarians, nutritionists and producers avoid those consequences, the FDA this week released its Guidance for Industry (GFI) 203, titled “Ensuring Safety of Animal Feed Maintained and Fed On-Farm.”

As with other FDA guidance documents, GFI 203 does not create any new regulations regarding feed safety, but provides recommendations based on FDA’s current thinking on how to avoid unacceptable levels of feed contaminants on the farm.

FDA defines feed contaminants as any biological, chemical, or physical agent that, if present in feed, has the potential to cause illness or injury to animals or humans. Unacceptable feed risk occurs when the level of a contaminant in feed is reasonably likely to cause illness or injury in animals or humans.

The guidance notes that some substances, particularly mineral nutrients such as selenium are necessary and beneficial at the proper levels in feed. Deficiencies can cause health problems in animals, but excessive concentrations can result in toxicity for animals and humans. Also, a concentration of a contaminant that does not adversely affect an animal could create a food-safety risk for humans.

An appendix to the guidance provides an example of aflatoxin in feed ingredients fed to lactating dairy cows. At a level of 20 parts per billion (ppb), the contaminant does not present an unacceptable feed risk for cattle, but it does create an unacceptable risk for humans consuming milk products from those animals. At a level of 100 ppb in feed ingredients, aflatoxin presents an unacceptable risk to lactating dairy cows and to humans.

Also, risk levels for some contaminants can vary depending on the livestock species and type of feed. For example, soybean meal contaminated with Salmonella pullorum, S. gallinarum, or S. enteritidis and fed to beef or dairy cattle does not represent an unacceptable risk to either cattle or people. In protein blends for laying chickens however, those same strains of Salmonella do represent an unacceptable risk of sickness for chickens and for humans consuming the eggs those chickens produce.

Overall, FDA offers these recommendations to avoid exposing animals to contaminated feed:

·         Know what feed contaminants may be present in your animals’ feed and the measures known to prevent such contaminants from becoming unacceptable feed risks.

·         Obtain feed from safe and reliable sources.

·         Recognize unexpected changes in the feed at your farm (e.g., changes in color, smell, texture, or appearance).

·         Know where in your animal production system(s) unacceptable feed risks may occur.

·         Monitor animal feed products for contaminants during receiving, holding, and handling.

·         Be aware that other actions, such as limiting access to the premises to authorized personnel, following feed labeling directions, proper personnel training, and sampling and testing of feed, can help ensure feed safety.

The guidance document provides additional detail on those recommendations, including feed-safety resources, feed-safety practices for various production settings, personnel training, feed analysis and action steps in case of problems.

Find the full GFI 203 document online from the FDA.