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Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in An Animal Feed Supplement

June 26, 2017 Biotechnology, Health, News 5 Comments

by Jonathan Latham, PhD and Allison Wilson, PhD

Genetically engineered (GE) bacteria have been found in riboflavin vitamin supplements intended for animal feed use according to newly published EU tests.

Contamination of food grade or animal feed supplements with GE bacteria is illegal in the European Union. In 2014, however, a German enforcement laboratory alerted EU officials to illegal GE bacterial contamination of a riboflavin supplement intended for animal feed. Further tests showed that the illegal contaminating strain was not among those the manufacturer claimed to be using.

The findings, just published in the journal Food Chemistry, were made by regulators from Germany and Italy who were sampling Chinese imports (Paracchini et al., 2017).

animal feed supplementation

animal feed supplementation

Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is an essential vitamin of vertebrate organisms. It is commonly used as a food additive for humans and animals. Until quite recently, all riboflavin supplements were chemically synthesised. However, riboflavin is now frequently produced by commercial fermentation using overproducing strains of GE bacteria.

According to EU biosafety regulations, no GMO bacterial strain, nor any DNA, is allowed to be present in commercial supplements. However, the contaminated sample of riboflavin contained viable strains of the genetically modified organism Bacillus subtilis. The researchers cultured and tested the contaminating bacterium and subsequent DNA sequencing showed it to be a production strain.

Further testing showed it to contain genomic DNA conferring resistance to the antibiotic chloramphenicol. In addition, the strain contained DNA extrachromosomal plasmids with other antibiotic resistance genes. These conferred resistance to the antibiotics, ampicillin, kanamycin, bleomycin, tetracycline, and erythromycin.

Correspondence between German diplomats, Chinese authorities, and the company, subsequently established that these antibiotic resistance genes constituted key differences between the strains the company claimed to be using and what was detected in Germany. Only the erythromycin and chloramphenicol resistance genes were acknowledged by the producer. Whether the altered strains had been used intentionally or were inadvertent contaminants is still not clear.

In 2015 a French testing laboratory found one riboflavin sample also contaminated with what is likely to be an identical bacterial strain, again from China (Barbau-Piednoir et al., 2015).

According to Janet Cotter of the consultancy Logos Environmental, European Food Safety Authority regulations state that antibiotic resistance genes “should be restricted to field trial purposes and should not be present in GM plants to be placed on the market” to prevent them entering the food chain as these antibiotic resistance genes presumably have. “This incident is the latest in a series of GMO escapes. It highlights the need for a database of detection methodologies for all GMOs used, both in contained use and at the field trial stage, so any escapees can at least be detected without facing the serious analytical challenges identification of this GMO contaminant posed.”

The publication documenting the tests also highlighted various altered properties of the detected Bacillus subtilis strain, including reduced fidelity of its protein translation system which might lead it to produce novel proteins.


Barbau-piednoir, E. Sigrid C. J. De Keersmaecker, Maud Delvoye, Céline Gau, Patrick Philipp and Nancy H. Roosens (2015) Use of next generation sequencing data to develop a qPCR method for specific detection of EU-unauthorized genetically modified Bacillus subtilis overproducing riboflavin. BMC Biotechnology 2015 15:103 DOI: 10.1186/s12896-015-0216-y

Paracchini, V., Petrillo, M., Reiting, R., Angers-Loustau, A., Wahler, D., Stolz, A., … & Pecoraro, S. (2017). Molecular characterization of an unauthorized genetically modified Bacillus subtilis production strain identified in a vitamin B 2 feed additive. Food Chemistry, 230, 681-689.

Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. Klaus Ammann says:

    Dear Jonathan, in the scientific world you are not making big points with your one-track-minded Epistels, it is of growing boredom how you stigmatize GMOs as a whole, you do not seem to be aware of the Genomic Misconception, see the open source text.

    Ammann Klaus (2014) Genomic Misconception: a fresh look at the biosafety of transgenic and conventional crops. A plea for a process agnostic regulation New Biotechnology 31 1 1-17 pp ISBN/1871-6784 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nbt.2013.04.008 AND http://www.ask-force.org/web/NewBiotech/Ammann-Genomic-Misconception-printed-2014.pdf

    Including Genome Editing rising fast nowadays you should be aware that we now deal with a continuum of new crops from conventional to highly developed biotech methods, indeed a difficult task for a new regulatory law, see some proposals below.

    Davison John and Ammann Klaus (2017) New GMO regulations for old: Determining a new future for EU crop biotechnology. GM Crops & Food, Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain 8 1 p.30, printed 13-34 pp http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21645698.2017.1289305 AND http://www.ask-force.org/web/Davison/Davison-Ammann-New-GMO-Regulations-for-old-print-20170126.pdf AND http://www.ask-force.org/web/Davison/Davison-Ammann-New-GMO-Regulations-for-old-print-read-20170126.pdf

    Eriksson, D. and Ammann, K. H. (2017) A Universally Acceptable View on the Adoption of Improved Plant Breeding Techniques Frontiers in Plant Science 7 1999 ISBN/1664-462X http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpls.2016.01999 AND http://www.ask-force.org/web/Genomics/Eriksson-Ammann-Universally-Acceptable-View-improved-2016.pdf

    best regards, Klaus Ammann

    • jrlatham says:

      Dear Klaus
      I am not sure what you know about “the scientific world” but this time last year our website was cited in the UK House of Lords and the floor of the US Congress on the same day, but on different subjects. Somebody is reading it.

    • Klaus Ammann says:

      Dear Jonathan,
      If you are not aware: I am maintaining one of the worlds largest collections of scientific literature, from biodiversity over regulation to ethics, some 650 endnote databases. Over my mail I answer daily some literature requests, and you are welcome to use this service (not paid by Monsanto) too.
      So, over numerous conferences and intensive exchange in science I should know what the “science world” really is.
      Details of my answer to you:


      and more about the “scientific world”: it means, related to the publications that your service, usually published in “independent science” and ENSSER and some questionable omics-journals: these are a minute portion of the global scientific publication activity. Unfortunately a microscopic amount of publications which – compared to the rest – does not really mean much because usually it is poorly documented.
      And also unfortunately: the European press is setting up a binocular magnification lens by discovering those few negative papers and promote them regularly on their headlines. It is also clear that fear is big business, not only for NGOs, but also for our daily press. e.g. Trump means big business for the New York Times, having now accumulated some 250’000 new subscribers since his election – not bad at all…You can go to my Facebook for details.

      And just a side comment to Jeff Kirkpatrick:
      What you are giving here as big news with citing the links to hostile Wikis targeting me, are given by me with some direct remarks in each of my mails in the address: no secret and nothing to be ashamed of: The prize to convince me to change my scientific opinion is so high that never in my life I felt tempted to write something as a paid opinion writer.
      See http://www.ask-force.org/web/Curriculum/Links2.pdf, including a full bibliography, bibliography etc.
      best, Klaus

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