Anthropogenic pollutants comprise a wide range of synthetic organic compounds and heavy metals, which are dispersed throughout the environment, usually at low concentrations. Exposure of ruminants, as for all other animals, is unavoidable and while the levels of exposure to most chemicals are usually too low to induce any physiological effects, combinations of pollutants can act additively or synergistically to perturb multiple physiological systems at all ages but particularly in the developing foetus. In sheep, organs affected by pollutant exposure include the ovary, testis, hypothalamus and pituitary gland and bone. Reported effects of exposure include changes in organ weight and gross structure, histology and gene and protein expression but these changes are not reflected in changes in reproductive performance under the conditions tested. These results illustrate the complexity of the effects of endocrine disrupting compounds on the reproductive axis, which make it difficult to extrapolate between, or even within, species. Effects of pollutant exposure on the thyroid gland, immune, cardiovascular and obesogenic systems have not been shown explicitly, in ruminants, but work on other species suggests that these systems can also be perturbed. It is concluded that exposure to a mixture of anthropogenic pollutants has significant effects on a wide variety of physiological systems, including the reproductive system. Although this physiological insult has not yet been shown to lead to a reduction in ruminant gross performance, there are already reports indicating that anthropogenic pollutant exposure can compromise several physiological systems and may pose a significant threat to both reproductive performance and welfare in the longer term. At present, many potential mechanisms of action for individual chemicals have been identified but knowledge of factors affecting the rate of tissue exposure and of the effects of combinations of chemicals on physiological systems is poor. Nevertheless, both are vital for the identification of risks to animal productivity and welfare.
- endocrine disrupting compounds