Overview

Natural feed toxicants are found in every bag of feed and in every pasture, but usually at doses far too small to do harm to animals that eat them in moderation. Plants produce these compounds to protect themselves against herbivory and attack by microorganisms. Without these chemicals, toxic to the plants' enemies, wild plants could not survive and domestic crops would require such large amounts of insecticide, fungicide, bird netting, etc., that raising feed would be economically prohibitive. Many feed toxicants may even be beneficial at moderate doses, and in the case of certain potentially toxic nutrients (e.g., vitamin A and selenium), are absolutely required for normal growth and production.

Protection of animals from feed toxicants cannot be focused on complete abolition of feed toxicants, since this would be too expensive, if not impossible. Instead, livestock protection and the safety of animal source foods depend on ensuring that the total load and identity of plant toxicants is appropriate for a given species, breed, and physiological state. This requires an awareness of the nature of feed toxins and animal responses generally and the specific feed toxicants that are most important for any given location. Although globalization of feed components increases the breadth of toxicant awareness needed, feed toxicants are still mostly regional problem, particularly for feeds taken by animals themselves as browse, pasture, or locally harvested forage (Figs. 1 and 2).

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