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Schaafsma states case in favour of fungicide use against fusarium toxins

A move by the European Union to ban the use of triazole fungicides to combat fusarium and the mycotoxins it produces attracted the attention of a University of Guelph professor, who spoke to an advisory panel last week in Brussels, Belgium.


November 5, 2008
By John Jordan/AgriLink

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November 3, 2008

In news that is certain to be of interest to cereal growers in both Western and Eastern Canada, the European Union (EU) is now considering restricting the use of triazole fungicides that offer protection against Fusarium-produced mycotoxins in cereal crops. Although it might be seen as a predictable reaction from the EU from a North American perspective, the proposal still caught the attention of Dr. Art Schaafsma, University of Guelph-Ridgetown Campus professor and mycotoxin expert. Schaafsma was called upon to deliver an address to the EU decision-makers in Brussels October 28th and framed his presentation around the concept of risk and outcome.

"I told them the decision they are making is all about weighing risks and benefits. For example, I took a risk to fly to Brussels, others in the audience took greater risks to drive to the meeting, yet we all got there and learned. That is a positive outcome. The same can be said about using fungicides to control mycotoxins," says the Ridgetown Campus professor.

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Schaafsma argues the potential risks of using fungicides such as Folicur ™ and Proline ™ are already known and negligible, when used in combination with proper crop genetics and scientific forecasting, and these are pale by comparison with the threat of Fusarium mycotoxins which can end up in food and feed. Crop genetics, mycotoxin forecasting and judicious fungicide applications are the three pillars he refers to in the battle against what he calls this ‘insidious’ problem. Fusarium in corn and wheat can render the grain unusable as livestock feed, as was the case two years ago with much of Ontario’s corn crop.

In the meantime, EU officials are looking at the triazole fungicides for their potential to affect human reproduction. Schaafsma told AgriLink there may be some academic basis for this concern, but only if the subject is directly exposed to the chemicals. There is no evidence of triazole residues being passed into grain products that are consumed.

"No detectable fungicide residues accumulate in harvested grain," he emphasized.

The genetics pillar that Schaafsma includes in the strategy has had some successes and setbacks.

"Every time you work with multiple genes for one trait, you have challenges with yields," he states. "But in the last 10 years, some great gains in breeding for both mycotoxin tolerance and yield advantage have been made, especially with wheat varieties," he adds.

The third pillar is mycotoxin forecasting and the Europeans were extremely interested in the forecasting advancements that got their start at Ridgetown Campus. DONcast was developed to provide wheat producers with a means to predict deoxynivalenol toxin (DON) accumulation levels for better efficiency in spray decisions. This forecasting service to Ontario wheat producers is carried out by Weather Innovations, a company based in Chatham.

"I made it clear to the audience that the battle against mycotoxins in grain can not be waged without all three of these pillars," concludes Schaafsma.

The issue of curtailing the chemicals comes before the EU Parliament later this month.