Bt10 contamination went unchecked by FSA (12/4/2006)

Hello Jonathan

If you listen online to today's Farming Today (BBC Radio 4), Wednesday 12 April, you will hear about possible BT10 contamination of imported GM maize - used for animal feed and making beer. There is no indication on their website that they are discussing this.

They interview Pete Riley of GM Freeze - documents show that in March 2005 maize possibly contaminated with BT10 was imported into UK, samples could have been tested from May 05, but no checks were made until Sept 05. He says that BT10 has not been approved by any regulator in the world.

The resistance gene in BT10 is Ampicillin - this is a Front line antibiotic and could cause bacteria in our gut to become resistant - it is known that GM material can horizontally transfer from feed to bacterium in the gut - that could cause even higher levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria than at present.

The EU has taken this problem so seriously that they have now prohibited front line antibiotic resistant markers in GM crops. Dr Clare Baynton of the Food Standards Agency was asked if enough had been done to prevent this BT10 maize coming into the country. She said that the FSA carried out its own survey - she denies the fact that no measures had been put in place.



GM Freeze press release - see also below FSA Documents Relating to the GM Bt10 maize contamination incident 2005


Bt Documents Reveal Lack of Urgency in Food Standards Agency Response
Press Release
Immediate Release 11th April

GM Freeze today publishes internal documents, obtained from the Food Standards Agency under the Environmental Information Regulations, relating to the illegal importation of Bt10 GM maize [1] from the USA between 2000 and 2004 [2].

The documents reveal significant delays before sampling of maize gluten and brewer’s grains imports by the FSA commenced. The EC was first informed of the illegal import on 22nd March 2005. Analytical methods for Bt10 were not available at the time that the US authorities revealed the longstanding contamination.

Key reference material was finally available to UK laboratories in early May 2005.

However, correspondence from the FSA to GM Freeze revealed that monitoring of imported maize did not commence until 20th September 2005. Internal FSA briefings for the Department of Health Ministers reveals that the UK receives one sixth of all maize gluten shipments entering the EU from the USA "which equates to about one shipment every five weeks" [3]. Syngenta, the biotech company which developed the GM maize, estimated that 1000 tonnes of Bt10 entered the EU in total.

After initially denying that Bt10 posed any threat to health [4], Syngenta and the US authorities announced that it contained an ampicillin resistant gene which meant that it would never receive safety approval in the EU [5]. Bt10 has not received approval in the US. Japan has to date found ten cargoes contaminated with Bt10 and Ireland one.

Commenting for GM Freeze Pete Riley said:

"In contrast to other food emergencies, the FSA documents reveal that they approached the Bt10 case with no sense of urgency. Japan and Ireland had both detected Bt10 in imported maize cargoes before the FSA had even started looking in the UK. The result of this tardy response is that the extent of Bt10 contamination in UK animal feed will never be known. Next time GM contamination happens it could involve GM pharmaceutical crops and pose an immediate threat to health. There is no indication from the documents we have seen from the FSA that they will be any better prepared next time".

All the Bt10 documents released to GM freeze are available here.

These include internal email discussions on handling media interest, correspondence with Syngenta and correspondence with the EC regarding the analytical techniques for Bt10.


Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065


1. The Biotech company Syngenta informed the US authorities that they had discovered that seeds lots of an approved GM maize Bt11 had been found to be contaminated with an unapproved GM variety Bt10 in December 2004. The EC were not informed of the potential of Bt10 contaminating exports to the EU until 22 March 2005.

2. The contamination with Bt10 began in 2000 before being detected by Syngenta in 2004.

3. FSA document entitled Further submission to Minister.

4. Letter from US Mission to EU 22nd March 2005.

5. Antibiotic resistance genes have been used by genetic engineers to tag genes they wish to engineer into crop plants. Plants which have been successfully modified would be resistant to the particular antibiotic when applied to the plant. Resistance genes to front line antibiotics, such as Ampicillin, are now prohibited in EC because of concerns that they could horizontally transfer into pathogenic bacteria thus increasing the risk of antibiotic resistance spreading and threatening their effectiveness in medicine and veterinary medicine.

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