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2-Plants: SE anti antibiotic resistance genes

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Below an official presentation of the recent SE policy on antibiotic resistance
genes. It may be added, however, that Swedish agencies are still accepting field
trials, and in one case a marketing application, with those genes.

  (Swedish Association of Ecological Farmers)
Peter Einarsson
SE-360 13 Urshult
Ph/fx +46-477 401 60


March 1999
Swedenvironment, No. 2
SWEDEN SHOULD WORK for a decrease in the use of antibiotic-resistant GMOs
(genetically modified organisms) and for their gradual phase-out from the
market. This policy is part of a joint recommendation published by seven
authorities in an effort to co-ordinate the handling of GMO-issues.
Responsibility for GMO in Sweden is split between, among others, the
National Chemicals Inspectorate, the National Food Administration, the
National Board of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, all
dealing with various aspects of GMO. In a consensus document, questions
and answers regarding antibiotic resistance based on current knowledge
have been collected.
Awaiting the possible removal of antibiotic-resistant GMOs from the
market, Sweden should make efforts to avoid the use of marker genes with
these properties. On the whole, Sweden should work towards using only such
genes which are necessary for obtaining desired properties in an
end-product or large-scale cultivation.
"Today, it is mainly a question of marker genes, since they are easy to
identify, e.g. kanamycin in laboratory selection of plants and bacteria",
explains Siv Ljungquist, at the National Chemicals Inspectorate. She
predicts that more antibiotic-resistant GMOs will emerge, before numbers
can be reduced.
"But we have to make it clear to those developing new products that such
markers are undesirable. Some alternatives are already available, and
development is rapid", Siv Ljungquist says. The GMO authorities in Sweden
consider the risks connected with using genes for antibiotic resistance as
markers in genetically modified plants to be very small. Theoretically,
the unwanted transfer of genes giving antibiotic resistance from plants to
bacteria in soil or the gastrointestinal tract is possible.
Risks with using antibiotic-resistant marker genes in genetically modified
micro-organisms, however, are considered to be larger. It has been
demonstrated that micro-organisms are also capable of exchanging
genetic material between distantly related species. This means that a
transfer of genetic markers from genetically modified micro-organisms with
increased probability can occur to soil bacteria or to the bacterial flora
in the stomach of animals and humans, if they appear in e.g. food. In a
longer time perspective, bacteria in the stomach could theoretically
spread to bacteria which carry disease.
"A European Commission expert group on these issues has reached the same
conclusions", Siv Ljungquist adds.
A similar Swedish policy report is being prepared on herbicide resistance
in GMOs.

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