Forage crops and cadmium: How changing farming systems might impact cadmium accumulation in animals

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Jun 25;827:154256. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.154256. Epub 2022 Mar 3.


Production advantages, environmental benefits and increasing parasite resistance are changing the composition of New Zealand pastures. Traditional ryegrass/clover pasture mixes are being replaced by forage herb crops such as lucerne, chicory and plantain that accumulate a higher concentration of contaminants such as cadmium (Cd). To explore the relationship between Cd in forage crops and the Cd concentration accumulated by animals, four-month-old lambs at four farms across the central North Island of New Zealand were grazed on different forage crops (ryegrass, chicory, lucerne and plantain) between weaning and slaughter. Soil and pasture samples, and sequential liver biopsies, were collected and analysed for total Cd. There were significant differences in Cd concentration between the forage crops (chicory > plantain > lucerne > ryegrass) and this ordering was repeated for Cd in liver. There was no exceedance of maximum limits (ML) for Cd in offal set by the EU and NZ/Australia food safety standards authorities for animals of this study, although the highest concentration of Cd in chicory (0.85 mg/kg DW) was considerably lower than has been recorded elsewhere in New Zealand (4.5 mg/kg DW). Provisional Soil Management Values (SMVs) were developed to explore compliance of liver with EU food standards as a function of grazing chicory. For a soil pH of 5, exceedance might occur at a soil cadmium concentration of 0.34 mg/kg. This concentration falls within Tier 0 of the New Zealand Tiered Fertiliser Management System which seeks to ensure soil Cd remains within acceptable limits over the next 100 years and beyond. Increased Cd uptake by fodder crops and its management in these Tier 0 pastoral soils is therefore an emerging issue for pastoral agriculture. The risk of ML exceedance for animals grazing forage crops such as chicory on low Cd soils should be further considered to ensure uninterrupted access to export markets.

Keywords: Chicory; Food safety; Liver; Maximum limits; Ryegrass; Soil guideline values.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Animals
  • Cadmium / analysis
  • Chicory*
  • Farms
  • Lolium*
  • Plantago*
  • Sheep
  • Sheep, Domestic
  • Soil


  • Soil
  • Cadmium