EFSA updates evaluation of Ochratoxin A risks in feed

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) has conducted a comprehensive assessment of the risks to animal health and transfer from feed to food of animal origin associated with the presence of ochratoxin A (OTA) in animal feed. This evaluation was initiated in response to a request from the European Commission, aiming to update the previous assessment published by EFSA in 2004. The CONTAM Panel incorporated newly available scientific information into its analysis.    

OTA is a mycotoxin produced by certain fungi, specifically from Aspergillus and Penicillium genera. It is known to be rapidly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract of most animal species and has a strong affinity for plasma albumins. The toxin is primarily detoxified to ochratoxin alpha (OTalpha) by the ruminal microbiota in ruminants.  
In pigs, OTA is predominantly found in the liver and kidneys. Transfer of OTA from feed to milk in ruminants and donkeys, as well as to eggs in poultry, has been confirmed but remains low.  
The adverse effects of OTA include impaired kidney and liver function, immunosuppression, and negative impacts on zootechnical performance (e.g. body weight gain), particularly in monogastric species due to limited detoxification to OTalpha.    

The CONTAM Panel established reference points (RPs) for adverse health effects related to OTA in specific animal species. For pigs and rabbits, the RP was set at 0.01 mg OTA/kg feed, while for chickens intended for fattening and laying hens, the RP was 0.03 mg OTA/kg feed, while for herbivorous fish, the RP was 0.5 mg OTA/kg feed. For ruminants, the CONTAM Panel concluded that it is not possible to derive an RP, due to lack of information.    

The assessment included 9 184 analytical results on OTA in feed, expressed as dry matter. Different dietary exposure scenarios were evaluated using model diets or compound feed (complete feed or complementary feed plus forage).    

The CONTAM Panel characterized the risk for animals where RPs could be identified. It characterized the risk by comparing the exposure against the relevant RP and expressing the exposure as a percentage of the RP (a percentage below 100 was considered a low risk). Specifically, the exposure ranged from 2% to 17% of the RP for chickens intended for fattening and laying hens, and from 14% to 86% of the RP for weaned pigs, indicating a low-risk level.    

The Panel conducted an uncertainty analysis and determined that the risk associated with OTA in feed for adverse health effects was very likely to be low (95-99% certainty) for poultry (hens and chickens intended for fattening), pigs, and rabbits.    

The CONTAM Panel also provided recommendations for further research.  
More information is needed on OTA toxicokinetics in certain animal species, including solipeds (horses), dogs, cats, and farmed mink. Additionally, data on the adverse effects of OTA in ruminants, solipeds, dogs, cats, and farmed mink are required.  
Lastly, the Panel emphasized the importance of providing detailed information when submitting OTA occurrence data to EFSA, including the expression of results and moisture content of samples, as well as target animals for compound feed.      



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