Chemical compounds that mimic or block some of the actions of the steroid hormone oestradiol, have created public concern primarily because of potential adverse reproductive effects in wildlife and humans. Many studies, in vivo and in vitro, have revealed abnormal reproductive function following exposure to these compounds. The number of chemicals known to have the potential to modulate endocrine functions is increasing. In contrast to humans and wildlife, the potential reproductive effects of exposure of domestic animals to endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC) have been studied little. The aim of this overview is to evaluate the possible contribution of EDC to reproductive failure in domestic ruminants.
Sources and classes of EDC are discussed as well as their structure and the modes of hormone disruption. Endocrine disrupting agents may interfere with the reproductive processes of both males and females at several points of the reproductive cycle and through a range of physiological mechanisms. Extrapolating from the results obtained with laboratory animals, the mechanisms whereby infertility in domestic ruminants might be expressed by exposure to EDC through contaminated food and drinking water are addressed.
A preliminary risk assessment is included and it is concluded that under certain circumstances there may be a significantly enhanced intake of oestrogenic hormones and EDC through sewage-contaminated water or soil-contaminated herbage. The physiological consequences for domestic ruminants of EDC ingestion, at the rates estimated, are largely unknown. However, the levels of exposure to oestrogenic hormones and phthalates in grazing ruminants are such that when studying fertility problems in high-yielding dairy cattle the impacts of exposure to endocrine disruptors via the food and drinking water cannot be neglected.