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From: Oz <>
Newsgroups: sci.agriculture
Subject: Re: Ergot contamination of seed grain
Date: Fri, 28 Jun 1996 20:39:05 +0100

In article <>, "David G. Bell"
<> writes
>What I didn't know is that the EU minimum standards for seed grain 
>permit two ergots per kilogram of seed, which could work out at a 
>contamination level of 500 ergots per hectare.  This seems to me to be a 
>sufficient level of contamination to infect the entire crop.

Actually apart from rye, most cereals are rather resistant. Most of the
ergots I have come across seem to originate from blackgrass.

>I know from my own experience that _one_ ergot detected in a 25-tonne 
>consignment of wheat is sufficient to cause rejection at any flour mill 
>in the UK.

Well you used to be allowed more, and the UK seemed pretty healthy.
Er, let's see. With a 1000 grain weight of 10 gr (say) one ergot weighs
maybe 10mg, so in a 25T load that's a contamination level of, er, 1 in

Since they all rise to the top during transport you should have been
nice to the driver and he might have picked them off for you.  :-)

>Can anyone confirm that the EU standard is as I have been told.

Er, no, but quite likely.

>If it is, what are the implications for both human and animal health in 
>the EU?  

Not much. It's easily separated in human flour mills due to it's low
density. A simple aspirator will remove most of it.

Panic not!

'Oz     "When I knew little, all was certain. The more I learnt,
        the less sure I was. Is this the uncertainty principle?"

From: Oz <>
Subject: Re: Fungus in corn
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 1997 06:52:45 +0100

In article <5tan18$ioq$>, Jay Mann
<> writes

>Some studies have shown consistently higher levels of fungal toxins in
>organically grown food.  Whether this is a significant health problem
>depends on the relationship between the concentrations found and the
>doses needed to cause illness.

Indeed so. However at present (at least in the UK) the organic acreage
is only about 1% of the total. In effect they are being protected by the
99% of crops that are treated, the epidemiology is not hard to work out.
If this rises to over 10% then outbreaks will tend to occur annually and
very much more severely and the levels of fungal toxins (and of plant
toxins produced to resist these attacks) may become very much higher. In
many cases the long term effect of a sub-toxic dose is unknown.

'Oz     "Is it better to seem ignorant and learn,
         - or seem wise and stay ignorant?"

From: Oz <>
Subject: Re: Fungus in corn
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 1997 18:24:41 +0100

In article <01bcacbf$6aa599e0$>, KMC
<> writes
>The point I was making is that fungi phobia is relatively pointless. The
>original posting claimed that fungi were a new scourge from which we
>should all be fearful for our lives. RE poisinings, St. vitus dance was
>caused by the ingestion of, mostly, rye that was contaminated with
>sclerotia of Claivcepes purpurea.


>These are large and conspicuous

Well, fairly conspicuous. They are, however, often the same size as
grain, and so are not that easy to separate out. They are markedly less
dense, so modern equipment can remove trace amounts.

> and
>cause the grain to be significantly discolored.

If there was this much in, it would be highly poisonous. As I understand
it you only need a few per kg to cause health problems (like your
periferies falling off).

>The damaged crops were
>consumed by peasants and any clean crop was used by the upper class.

The upper classes had no idea where their wheat came from. As I
understand it the problem was mostly in particular seasons when ergots
were common. Of course there would have been some selection of lots of
wheat and sure, the poor would have got the worst. In the UK the
institution of gleaning to provide wheat and feed grains for the poor
reduced ergotism in the villages (but not the towns), if you pick the
grains up off the ground one by one, it's easy to avoid the ergots.

>Fortunately, this and other similar fungal infections of grains, is
>easily controlled by a combination of cultural and sanitary procedures.

Such as?

>Ergotism is not a significant problem in developed countries

Because the tolerance for ergots in a lorryload is NIL.

>and in developing countries where appropriate measures are employed.

Such as?

'Oz     "Is it better to seem ignorant and learn,
         - or seem wise and stay ignorant?"

From: Oz <>
Subject: Re: Fungus in corn
Date: Fri, 22 Aug 1997 08:29:35 +0100

In article <5tj75o$ap3$>, Jay Mann
<> writes

>The dangerous alkaloids come from smut, a fungus that attacks rye mainly
>but also other cereals.  The smut fruiting bodies are the same size as a
>grain of rye, and I believe that current regulations allow a maximum of
>1% smut, which is a recognition of the impossiblity of eliminating it
>completely.  Think about that the next time you eat some "healthy"
>organic ryebread or pumpernickel.

With all due respect smut is not ergot. Smuts are balls of spores that
are produced instead of the grain. They are easily separated although
some species produce a most unpleasant fishy smell that will cause
rejection of the grain. I do not doubt that they may contain toxins, but
this is not a problem because generally separation is so easy. The
disease is mostly one transmitted via the seed and it may well be that
1% infected seeds is the limit for this. The limit is to protect the
crop grown from the seed, and not human health.

Ergots are as previously described. In the UK *ALL* grain (even for
animal food) must be *free* of ergot. It is common practice for the
upper edges of a lorryload to be inspected in the UK because the light
ergots migrate to these locations during transport. It is thus not
impossible (indeed has happened) for a load contining ONE ergot
(weighing perhaps 10mg) to cause the rejection of a load of 25 T. A
(totally absurd) level of 0.4 parts per billion.

'Oz     "Is it better to seem ignorant and learn,
         - or seem wise and stay ignorant?"

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