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3-Food: Swedish authorities recommend to phase out antibiotic resistance genes in GMOs

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Swedenvironment No 2-99. 

Swedenvironment is a newsletter from Ministry of the Environment, the 
Environmental Protection Agency and National Chemicals Inspectorate in 

SWEDENVIRONMENT No 2-99 highlights:

Antibiotic-resistant GMOs should be gradually phased-out from the market, 
according to a common policy adopted by seven national agencies involved 
in GMO issues.


GMOs: Phase-out of antibiotic resistance

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.

Siv Ljungquist, Nationals Chemicals Inspectorate
Tel: +46-8-7306858


The Swedish study

Risk of GMO Spreading Resistance to Antibiotics
KemI Report No. 1/99, In Swedish
Summary in English, Order No 360 644, SEK 150.

is available at:
Swedish National Chemicals Inspectorate (KemI) P.O. Box 1384, S-17127 
Solna, Sweden
Orderfax: + 46-8-7355229

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