“We suspect that the drought is responsible for the very high levels of durrhein in sorghum plants,” Stefano Giantin, a veterinarian at the Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute of Piedmont, Liguria and Val d”, told AFP Aosta. Sorghum is one of the cyanogenic plants that are the cause of very severe poisoning with a very rapid development (less than an hour).
In early August, farmers at this farm near Turin found several dozen dead cows after eating young shoots of sorghum.
Symptoms appear very quickly (10 to 15 minutes after ingestion) and death occurs within 15 to 30 minutes after respiratory, nervous and muscular disorders, accompanied by tremors and convulsions.
Usually not fatal
Durrhein is a substance that is toxic to animals and is found in sorghum primarily in the young sprouts, which use it to defend themselves against predators: when it is hydrolyzed in the forestomach of ruminants, it releases hydrogen cyanide. “It doesn’t usually lead to death,” emphasizes Stefano Giantin.
For Stefano Giantin, the drought could be the cause of the poisoning.
But in the sorghum sprouts from Sommariva del Bosco, the analyzes showed that the concentration of Durrhine was 10.717 mg/kg, a level that Stefano Giantin classified as “very abnormal”. According to the first analyses, a high presence is due to the water stress caused by the drought in Italy and Europe in general.
In animals that died in Sommariva, the amount of hydrocyanic acid was more than 900 mg/kg, while for cattle a dose above 700 mg/kg is considered lethal.