US looks to manage feed crops exposed to flood waters

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags Crops

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is attempting to address concerns regarding use of flooded or storm damaged feed crops. 

The additional information on how to assess and manage feed and crops that were affected by either Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma comes as a new storm, Hurricane Maria, moved through the Atlantic and swept over US territory Puerto Rico.

The initial storms were the first time that two category 4 hurricanes have hit the US back-to-back, said Scott Gottlieb, US Food and Drug (FDA) commissioner. The agency has been releasing additional information​ to address questions​ from farmers​ and producers effected by the storms – especially in regards to managing crops exposed to flood waters.

“There have been substantial crop losses from both storms,”​ he said. “Crops may be submerged in flood water, exposed to contaminants, or susceptible to mold. Some of the major concerns for crop safety are heavy metals, chemical, bacterial, and mold contamination. In many cases, it is challenging to determine what contaminants are in crops that were submerged by floodwaters.”

Harvey and Irma may not have had much influence on overall grain markets, said Chad Hart, associate professor of economics, crop market specialist and extension economist with Iowa State University. “Export shipments seem to be moving along,”​ he added.

However, he told us: “Irma could have some impact on harvest numbers from the southern states affected, but those impacts will not show up until next month’s USDA report.”​  

Feed damage and concerns

After periods of storms and flooding, the FDA works with states to address concerns about the safety of the food supply, said Gottlieb.

“We recognize that these hurricanes have presented unique challenges for farmers."

The FDA has not issued a ban on any of the feed or food crops grown in the areas hit by the storms, he said. Feed crops and grains that grew in those areas but which were not exposed to contaminated floodwaters are able to “enter commerce.”

“Rice and other crops that were harvested and stored safely before storms hit should not be considered impacted by these events,”​ he said. However, the agency is working to release more information and work with state officials and producers to offer science-based information on which crops can be sold without generating risk to animals fed the grains in feed.

But both food for animals and humans has to continue to meet safety regulations, said Gottlieb. “We also understand that state Departments of Agriculture may have specific requirements regarding any attempt to clean, process, test, use or sell crops for human or animal food,” ​he added.

Case specific evaluation

Flooding situations have to be considered on a case-by-case basis that examines the amount of flooding and type of crop, said the FDA. There may be times when crops collected from a field that has seen flood damage could be used for animal feed – but generally those feed crops would be unacceptable.

“Flood waters from storms often contain sewage, pathogenic organisms, pesticides, chemical wastes, or other toxic substances,”​ the agency said. “Mold growth is another serious concern for flood impacted crops intended for use in animal food. Some molds produce mycotoxins, which are toxic to certain animals and people. People who eat food products from animals that ate the mold may also suffer health effects.”

Prior to using feed grains harvested from flooded fields, the crop should be tested for mold, mycotoxins, bacteria, heavy metals contamination and chemicals, the agency said. Depending on results, the crop could be found suitable for use in feed, or salvageable through reconditioning.  

“As information becomes available regarding conditions near flooded crops, additional testing (for example, for a specific chemical, industrial or environmental contaminant) may be appropriate for producers to consider to ensure the safety of their products for use in animal food,” ​the agency said.

The agency also is working with producers to evaluate requests to recondition adulterated crops in to a feed suitable for animals, the FDA said. However, that is being done on a case-by-case basis.  

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