Martin Hickman and Genevieve Roberts
London Independent
March 4, 2010

The introduction of a genetically modified potato in Europe risks the development of human diseases that fail to respond to antibiotics, it was claimed last night.

German chemical giant BASF this week won approval from the European Commission for commercial growing of a starchy potato with a gene that could resist antibiotics – useful in the fight against illnesses such as tuberculosis.

Farms in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic may plant the potato for industrial use, with part of the tuber fed to cattle, according to BASF, which fought a 13-year battle to win approval for Amflora. But other EU member states, including Italy and Austria and anti-GM campaigners angrily attacked the move, claiming it could result in a health disaster.

During the regulatory tussle over the potato, the EU’s pharmaceutical regulator had expressed concern about its potential to interfere with the efficacy of antibiotics on infections that develop multiple resistance to other antibiotics, a growing problem in human and veterinary medicine. Amflora contains a gene that produces an enzyme which generally confers resistance to several antibiotics, including kanamycin, neomycin, butirosin, and gentamicin.

The antibiotics could become “extremely important” to treat otherwise multi-resistant infections and tuberculosis, the European Medicines Authority (EMA) warned. Drug resistance is part of the explanation for the resurgence of TB, which infects eight million people worldwide every year.

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