New ban on 'modified' foodstuffs

ANTIBIOTIC resistance genes used in a tomato genetically engineered to be tastier may stop it gaining clearance in Britain, government safety advisers warned yesterday, writes Susan Watts.

There is growing concern over the widespread use of antibiotic resistance genes in genetically modified food. The fear is that resistance genes could be passed on to micro-organisms in the human gut, or to bacteria and viruses that cause human disease, rendering antibiotics less effective.

The advisers yesterday issued a blanket ban on approval of modified food containing 'live' micro- organisms with added antibiotic resistance genes. Examples include yoghurts, beers and some breads, all of which can carry residues of the engineered bacteria or yeasts used to produce them.

Derek Burke, chairman of the Government's Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, said there was no evidence for transfer of resistance genes in the human gut, but this was not impossible. 'We were told very clearly by those we consulted that we shouldn't in any way increase this resistance.'

ACNFP Annual Report 1993, MAFF; 071 238 6380.

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