Phytosterol esters (PE) are intended for use as a novel food ingredient with plasma cholesterol lowering activity which works by inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol from the gut. Although PE are naturally present in the normal diet, the levels are insufficiently large to ensure lowering of plasma cholesterol levels. Therefore PE may be added to spreads to achieve the desired cholesterol lowering activity. As part of an extensive programme of safety evaluation studies a two-generation reproduction study has been conducted in Wistar rats, in which the possible effect of PE on male and female reproductive performance and on the growth and development of the offspring was studied. Rats were fed diets containing PE at levels of 0, 1.6, 3.2 and 8.1% (w/w) PE over two successive generations, and a wide range of reproductive and developmental parameters, including sexual maturation parameters and oestrous cycle length, were determined. Macroscopic and microscopic examinations were conducted including a histological examination of selected organs from F1- and F2-weanlings and from F0- and F1-parental animals. Daily clinical observations did not reveal any unusual findings. In both generations, no effects of PE were observed on pup mortality (calculated on litter basis), precoital time, mating index, male and female fertility index, female fecundity index, gestation index, duration of gestation, number of females with stillborn pups, post-implantation loss and pup development. Furthermore, PE had no effect on sexual maturation parameters (preputial separation and vaginal opening) and oestrous cycle length. In addition, there were no dose-related effects on selected organs following histological examination. In conclusion, dietary administration of up to 8.1% PE (equivalent to a dose of 2.5 to 9.1g PE/kg body weight/day, dependent on the period of the study) during two generations had no effect on reproduction of parental F0- and F1-generation Wistar rats, nor on the development of the F1- and F2-pups, nor on the sexual maturation of the F1-weanlings. Therefore, a nominal dietary PE concentration of 8.1% (equivalent to a dose of 2.5-9.1g PE/kg body weight/day or 1.54-5.62g phytosterol/kg body weight/day dependent on the period of the study) was considered to be the no-observed-adverse-effect level following daily oral administration of PE for two successive generations. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd.