Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in an Animal Feed Supplement

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).

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.

More articles by:

Jonathan Latham edits Independent Science News.

March 22, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Italy, Germany and the EU’s Future
David Rosen
The Further Adventures of the President and the Porn Star
Gary Leupp
Trump, the Crown Prince and the Whole Ugly Big Picture
The Hudson Report
Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons and Debt in Antiquity
Steve Martinot
The Properties of Property
Binoy Kampmark
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism
Jeff Berg
Russian to Judgment
Gregory Barrett
POSSESSED! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised
Robby Sherwin
What Do We Do About Facebook?
Sam Husseini
Trump Spokesperson Commemorates Invading Iraq by Claiming U.S. Doesn’t Dictate to Other Countries; State Dept. Defends Invasion
Rob Okun
Students: Time is Ripe to Add Gender to Gun Debate
Michael Barker
Tory Profiteering in Russia and Putin’s Debt of Gratitude
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am a Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us