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Zeranol, a semi-synthetic oestrogenic growth promoter, was banned in the EU in 1988. The ability of Member States to police the ban on the susbstance has been hampered by suggestions from New Zealand and from this laboratory that the substance may be formed by the in vivo metabolism of naturally occurring Fusarium spp. toxins. The present study demonstrates that th toxin is formed from alpha-zearalenol and zearalenone in vivo and is detected in bovine bile following the oral administration of these compounds. However, it is not detected following administration of beta-zearalenol. These data suggest that hydrogenation of alpha-zearalenol, probably in the rumen, is responsible for the appearance of the toxin. The present study shows that environmental contamination with Fusarium spp. toxins is widespread in Northern Ireland. Fusarium spp. toxins were present in 32% (n = 422) of all bovine bile samples tested for zeranol during 1995. The substance itself was confirmed in 6.6% (n = 28) of the samples. However, the mean alpha-zearalenol and beta-zearalenol concentrations in the bile of zeranol-positive animals were 12 and 9 times higher, respectively, than those in the zeranol-negative animals. The alpha-zearalenol concentration always exceeded the susbtance concentration by at least 5:1. This may, in the future, permit differentiation between zeranol abuse and natural contamination.
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