GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 29th  April 2004

Antibiotic Resistance behind withdrawal of GM Maize

Spain has withdrawn a GMO from the market at the request of the EU, because of concern that Syngenta's (GM) Bt176 corn could generate resistance to antibiotics. The same variant, BT 176 maize was found to have contaminated crops in the Gisborne and Pukehohe regions in August 2002.

The withdrawal follows a report from the European Food Security Agency (EFSA) calling for an end to cultivation of several genetically modified corn varieties.

Many GM products use antibiotic markers to identify if the experimental transfer of genes has taken place. For years this has raised serious concerns that mass-use of antibiotic resistant genes in genetically unstable contexts, could undermine the treatment of disease.

Even in non-food products such as GE cotton, scientists have warned that the particular antibiotic markers used could make treatment of illnesses like gonorrhoea increasingly difficult. GE Free New Zealand have long held concerns that any pollen originating from the Forest Research GE pine trees, now planted outside in a Rotorua trial, may increase resistance to the commonly used antibiotic ampicillin.

"The biotech-industry has not kept its promise to stop using these antibiotic-markers," says Jon Carapiet form GE free NZ in food and environment.

"Even though not all antibiotic resistant markers are deemed clinically important, the evidence of complex systems of genetic exchange between bacteria signals any use of antibiotic markers could drive the creation of resistant-diseases."

The withdrawal of the GM crop in Spain is yet another warning to New Zealand government and regulators like ERMA, that any approvals for such organisms to be released in the New Zealand environment threatens the national interest.

Contact Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370

Back to Press Release Directory


Cultivation of Bt176 corn (maize) occupied 20,000 hectares in Spain, the only member state of the European Union with any significant commercial GM crop acreage.

Brussels established three groups of GM crops: those that contain marker genes resistant to antibiotics with no efficient use in human medicine and which do not need restriction; those that contain markers resistant to antibiotics that have specific uses, and which should thus only be used in experimental work; and those that contain marker genes resistant to antibiotics that are very important for human therapeutics (tetracycline) and which should be avoided to guarantee higher standards of health protection.

Syngenta wants to replace the withdrawn Bt176 with Bt11 corn, but Bt11 has not yet received authorisation in the EU. In fact, the French and Belgium expert committees have both refused Syngenta's Bt11 corn the green light, saying that Syngenta has not performed sufficient toxicological tests with the actual GMO but mainly provided the results with a Bt11 fodder maize. Both expert committees have demanded full toxicological studies with the GMO for which the approval is requested.

These problems are of wider significance as Syngenta is trying to gain approval for its maize elsewhere in the world and is likely to support its applications with the same "evidence" which has been rejected by the French and Belgian scientists. The original article about the Spanish withdrawal can be seen here: ElEstado espanol retirara un OGM a instancias de la UE. El maiz Bt 176 Podria provoca resistencias a los antibioticos, GARA, Spain article about the Bt11 safety rejection can be seen here: L'Afssadesapprouve un OGM que Bruxelles veut autoriser (The French Authority for Food Safety does not approve a GMO which Brussels wants to authorise), Le Monde, France, 24 Apr 20004, by Herve Kempf,13-0,36-362233,0.htm lT hese concerns arise at the same time that the French newspaper Le Monde has exposed expert concerns about health risks with regard to Monsanto's MY 863 corn.

Back to Press Release Directory