- Genetically-modified (GM) food could
make dangerous diseases such as meningitis more difficult to treat, a government
scientific advisor has warned.
- Specialists on the UK Government's Advisory
Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) are concerned about plants
being grown in the USA and parts of Europe that contan a gene resistant
- They fear the resistance could be spread
widely throughout the environment, and that it could be picked up by bacteria
that cause serious disease.
- Microbiologist Dr John Heritage, a member
of the committee, has written to the American authorities to express his
- Gene transfer
- Dr Heritage told the BBC the risk posed
by antibiotic-resistant foods was small.
- But he said: "We are talking about
diseases that may be life threatening, like meningitis.
- "Were these genes to get into bacteria
from genetically modified plants it would make cases of disease more difficult
- Dr Heritage said antibiotic resistant
genes were used by biotechnology companies because they allow scientists
to move other genes around.
- Scientists do this with the aim of eradicating
weaknesses in the crop and enhancing the positive qualities of the food.
- Cells split
- He said the risk of spreading antibiotic
resistance occured when cells were broken open during the processing of
the food, releasing the modified DNA into the environment.
- The risk was magnified when the processing
created dust, Dr Heritage said, because the dust would be breathed in.
- "This is where the meningitis worry
comes because a significant minority of the population carry the bacteria
that cause meningitis," he said.
- "That family of bacteria are very
adept at taking up DNA from the environment and expressing it."
- There are concerns about an antibiotic
resistant gene known as AAD that is found in genetically modified maize
- The ACNFP issued a statement which said
that the committee had published detailed guidance on the use of antibiotic
marker genes in the UK to ensure their use does not add to the current
levels of antibiotic resistance.