Zearalenone (ZEA)

January 27, 2019



  • Journal of Food Science study detected zearalenone in wheat, rice, corn and oats from markets in Uttar Pradesh.

  • Fungal toxins are commonly found in food, and can be a public health concern.





What is it?

  • It is a fungal toxin infesting cereals such as wheat, barley and maize.

  • It attacks crops while they are growing, but can also develop when cereals are stored without being dried fully.


  • Aflatoxin, deoxynivalenol, ergot infest cereals, while patulin is found in apples. Each of these toxins has been associated with disease outbreaks. 

  • For example, in 1974, a hepatitis outbreak in Rajasthan and Gujarat, which made 398 people sick and killed 106, was linked to aflatoxin in wheat. 

  • Chronic aflatoxin consumption has been shown to cause liver cancer. 



  • Zearalenone (ZEA) behaves like oestrogen, the female sex hormone, and could cause endocrine disturbances in humans. Its nasty effects in animals, such as pigs, are documented. When fed with mouldy corn, pigs develop inflamed vaginas, infertility and other symptoms. This is why countries like Brazil regulate zearalenone levels in animal feed. 



  • The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India does not impose maximum limits for zearalenone, though the European Union (EU) does.

  • India regulates the levels of some of these, including aflatoxin, deoxynivalenol, ergot and patulin. 

  • the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies aflatoxin as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning there is enough evidence for its carcinogenicity. In zearalenone’s case, there is no strong evidence of toxicity in humans so far, though several research groups are investigating. the IARC classifies it as a Group 3 carcinogen, which means evidence is not sufficient for an evaluation yet.


  • Biotransformation is a process by which organic compounds are transformed from one form to another, aided by organisms such as bacteria, fungi and enzymes.

    • Biotransformation is considered as a cost effective and environment-friendly solution for removing Zearalenone (ZEA), without damaging the feed nutrition.



Since zearalenone favours cool climates, such contamination could be limited to a few States. Data is needed from other states too, to examine its impact on human health and the environment.



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