Vegetable Toxin That Killed Wisconsin Dead Cows: Should You Be Concerned?

Filed in Gather News Channel by on January 31, 2011 0 Comments

The mystery of the Wisconsin dead cows has been solved. It was found that they were killed by a toxin found in the sweet potatoes in the animal feed they were all eating, but what exactly was that toxin? Is it something the average sweet potato consumer needs worry about?

Sweet potatoes are supposed to be one of the healthiest potatoes a person can eat. Although, sweet potatoes are more like a distant cousin to the regular white and yellow potatoes that are a mainstay at dinner time in America.

Unfortunately, especially for the dead cows of Wisconsin, they can also be very deadly when not maintained or prepared correctly.

According to the LaCrosse Tribune:

The steers who died Jan. 14 at a feedlot were initially thought to have died from pneumonia, but the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in Madison did more testing and discovered the cows had eaten moldy sweet potato waste that contained a toxin.

The UW-Madison news bureau reported that tests on feed samples revealed the presence of ipomeanol, a mycotoxin found in moldy sweet potatoes, Peter Vanderloo, associate director of the lab, said in a news release. “Based on history, clinical signs, changes in tissue and test results from our lab and a referral laboratory, it is likely that a mycotoxin from moldy sweet potato was a major factor in the disease and deaths of these steers.”

The presence of ipomeanol in the dead cows comes from moldy, infected sweet potatoes. This means that most of the human population should not have to worry at all about this, as vegetables used for animal feed are not held up to the stringent regulations that vegetables for human consumption are held to today. For all of you science gurus out there, the National Cancer Institute provides a more scientific explanation that most lay people will not appreciate, but here is their explanation:

A natural toxic furan isolated from a fungus-infected sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) with potential antineoplastic activity. Ipomeanol is activated by mixed function oxidases in vivo to its epoxide form, an alkylating agent that covalently binds cell macromolecules. This agent causes cell death by a p53-independent mechanism.

So, donÂ’t worry about the poor dead cows in Wisconsin. Go ahead and eat those sweet potatoes! Now, if you are a farmer, you may want to give some extra attention to what is going into your feed for the animals. It is too bad that 200 cows had to die, when it could have easily been prevented with proper storage or testing.


Photo Credit: Joi Ito via flickr

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