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Genetic engineering bacteria in animal feed spread antibiotic resistance

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Symbol picture © Shutterstock/Maerzkind

Genetically modified bacteria with antibiotic resistance were introduced into animal feed mixtures throughout Europe via a vitamin supplement. The consumer organisation Foodwatch says that hundreds of thousands of tons could be affected and accuses the EU Commission of hesitant action.

At the beginning of October 2018, the Belgian authorities reported in the EU warning system RASFF that they had found an "unauthorised genetically modified bacterium (Bacillus subtilis) in vitamin B2 (feed) from the Netherlands". Vitamin B2 is mostly produced using genetically modified micro-organisms such as Bacillus subtilis. However, the purified vitamins are normally free of residues of the bacteria. Here they were not.

Repeated discovery of genetically manipulated bacteria

According to information from Foodwatch, “this year at least eight tons of the illegal vitamin B2 preparation from China contaminated with genetically modified bacteria have reached Europe via the Dutch feed manufacturer Trouw Nutrition”. And that wasn’t the first time. In 2014, German and British authorities already found genetically modified Bacillus subtilis in vitamin B2 granulate from China, which was intended for animal feed. The Chinese manufacturer had already applied for EU approval for its riboflavin feed additive in 2010. Subsequently, the laboratory of a member state proved that samples of the additive were contaminated with genetically modified bacteria from the production process. But only in September 2018 did the EU Commission withdraw the approval for the Chinese additive after the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA) determined in March 2018 that the vitamin supplement posed a risk to animals, consumers and the environment. In its Prohibition Ordinance, the Commission reports in detail on the eight-year history and describes its hesitant actions.

Disregard for the risks for consumers

"It is shocking how the EU Commission not only ignores the health risks of genetically modified organisms, but also accepts the completely unnecessary spread of antibiotic resistance caused by illegal feed additives for years," explained Matthias Wolfschmidt, campaign director of Foodwatch. "The EU and the Ministry of Agriculture knowingly disregarded the health of consumers," Renate Künast, nutrition policy spokeswoman for the Green Party in the Bundestag, told Spiegel magazine. For Christoph Then, CEO of Testbiotech, the case shows "that the EU Commission is too negligent with the risks of genetically modified organisms. These bacteria had the opportunity to spread over years in the animal stables and pass on their resistance to other germs that pose a health risk.

The feed of organic animals may also contain added minerals and vitamins. However, these must be produced without genetic engineering. There is still enough non-GM vitamin B2 on the market, said the head of a large organic inspection body. But the supply is endangered. The German Federal Programme for Organic Agriculture is currently funding a joint project of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture that is to develop new sources of vitamin B2.



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