Cargill Inc. pulled nearly 300,000 pounds of animal feed from the market over the past three months due to elevated aflatoxin levels, a toxin found on moldy crops that if ingested can kill animals.

The voluntary recall, announced Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, includes chicken, horse and cattle feed, as well as some sheep and goat feed, sold under the Southern States brand.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture discovered the contamination when testing a specific product of the feed brand.

Minnetonka-based Cargill traced the problem to moldy corn from a supplier of the company's plant in Cleveland, N.C.

"We are actively working with the supplier to understand where the mold may have come from. As a result, we are now sourcing corn from other suppliers," said April Nelson, a Cargill spokeswoman.

Cargill has removed all the product from retail shelves and contacted some customers, asking them to throw away the affected product. The recalled products were distributed in Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

The company gave those customers a credit for the lost product, Nelson said, and no adverse health effects have been reported.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aflatoxin is a fungal toxin found on moldy crops, like peanuts, cottonseed, corn and tree nuts. The Aspergillus fungi can colonize crops in the field, during harvest or in storage.

Exposure can be detrimental to both animals and humans, with the young being especially vulnerable. Acute aflatoxicosis can cause hemorrhaging, bloody diarrhea and death within one to three days.

People can be exposed by eating contaminated plants, like peanuts, or eating meat or dairy products from animals that consumed contaminated feed, according to the National Cancer Institute, while farmers and agricultural workers can be exposed when handling and processing contaminated crops.

While exposure to the carcinogen can increase the risk of developing liver cancer, there hasn't been an outbreak of human illness caused by aflatoxins in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute. Some developing countries have faced aflatoxin-related outbreaks.

Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767