Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources
From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Zearalenone (can be pronounced as Zee-ralley-none)
Mains level: Zearalenone and health issues associated with its consumption
- This month, a Journal of Food Science study detected zearalenone in wheat, rice, corn and oats from markets in Uttar Pradesh.
- The study, by researchers from Lucknow’s Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR), found the substance in 70 of the 117 samples tested.
What is Zearalenone?
- Zearalenone is a fungal toxin infesting cereals such as wheat, maize and barley.
- It attacks crops while they are growing, but can also develop when cereals are stored without being dried fully.
- While numerous studies document this toxin in cereals across the world, no data existed for India until now.
- There is no strong evidence of toxicity in humans so far, though several research groups are investigating.
- As a result, the IARC classifies it as a Group 3 carcinogen, which means evidence is not sufficient for an evaluation yet.
- Zearalenone 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.
Yet no cap of Regulation
- The FSSAI does not impose maximum limits for zearalenone, though the European Union (EU) does.
- Twenty-four of the U.P. samples exceeded the EU regulatory limits of 100-200 mcg/kg of cereals.
- Based on this, the authors say India should set limits on zearalenone in cereals.
Other Fungal toxins in Food
- Fungal toxins are commonly found in food, and can be a public health concern.
- India regulates the levels of some of these, including aflatoxin, deoxynivalenol, ergot and patulin.
- The first three infest cereals, while patulin is found in apples.
- Each of these toxins has been associated with disease outbreaks.
Impact of Fungal Toxins
- For example, in 1974, a hepatitis outbreak in Rajasthan and Gujarat, which made 398 people sick and killed 106, was linked to aflatoxin in maize.
- Meanwhile, chronic aflatoxin consumption has been shown to cause liver cancer.
- Given this, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies aflatoxin as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning there is enough evidence for its carcinogenicity.
- More data are needed from cereals in other States, and from other storage conditions, before India decides to set limits.
- Since zearalenone favours cool climates, such contamination could be limited to a few States.
- Regulations cannot be awaited till outbreak.
- The research is an excellent starting point, since nothing was known about the chemical in India so far.