Fusarium fungi are common to the soil and produce a range of different toxins, including trichothecenes such as deoxynivalenol (DON), nivalenol (NIV) and T-2 and HT-2 toxins, as well as zearalenone (ZON or ZEA) and fumonisins. The formation of the moulds and subsequent toxins occur on a variety of different cereal crops. Different fusarium toxins can be associated more with certain types of cereal. For example, both DON and ZON may be associated with wheat, T-2 and HT-2 toxins with oats, and fumonisins with maize (corn).
Trichothecenes can be acutely toxic to humans, causing sickness and diarrhoea, but at much higher levels than those typically seen in the UK. Reported chronic effects in animals include suppression of the immune system. ZON is oestrogenic and has been shown to exhibit hormonal effects, such as infertility, particularly in pigs. Fumonisins have been related to oesophageal cancer in humans, and to liver and kidney toxicity in animals.
Other fusarium toxins have also been identified, such as moniliformin, beauvericin and enniatins. Although these are less well known, further studies and data-gathering exercises will help to evaluate any potential health effects.