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EU food alert system exposed to antimicrobial resistant contamination

On 25 October 2018, the European Parliament adopted a new legislative framework for veterinary medicinal products and medicated feed, a step forward in preventing the rise in antibiotic resistance.

This op-ed is signed by MEP Barts Staes (Greens/EFA), MEP Lynn Boylan (GUE), MEP Guillaume Balas (S&D), MEP Tilly Metz (Greens/EFA), MEP Maria Heubuch (Greens/EFA), MEP Eleonora Evi (EFDD), MEP Thomas Waitz (Greens/EFA) and MEP Michèle Rivasi (Greens/EFA).

Under this new legislation, the preventive use of antibiotics in animal feed will be prohibited. This will also apply to imported foodstuffs. This policy should be implemented by 2022 and is one of many responses to rising antibiotic resistance, which is a major risk to human and animal health and threatens us all.

By prohibiting the systematic preventative feeding of antibiotics to farmed animals and ending the use of last-resort antibiotics for animals, EU legislators want to ensure that these drugs can stay effective.

However, laws and regulations will not be enough to win the – very costly – fight against antibiotic resistance. Last December, there were specific reports of massive contamination of animal feed with antimicrobial resistance genes dating back to 2014.

NGOs published information that large quantities of unauthorised vitamin B2 (also called riboflavin (80%) containing viable, genetically modified bacteria had been introduced into the human food chain in Europe via feed additives from a Dutch animal-nutrition supplier imported from China.

This genetically modified bacteria is not authorised to be used in food or feed in the EU and was genetically engineered to carry antimicrobial resistance genes. This poses risks to both animals and human health, as well as to the environment, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The contamination is estimated to concern between 250,000 and 500,000 tons of animal feed in several EU countries (to date: the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Italy and the Netherlands are concerned but the list may grow).

As early as 2014, the German and British authorities warned other Member States via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) after discovering the presence of this unauthorised genetically modified bacteria in vitamin B2 feed additives.

In October 2016, a joint study conducted by experts from the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and other EU authorities concluded that the affected feed additives should never have been sold.

It should be noted that the Vitamin Authorisation Consortium (VITAC), regrouping the main stakeholders, applying for the authorisation of vitamins on the EU market, have refused to collaborate with the BVL and to provide them with relevant samples. At the time, no measures were taken to withdraw the vitamin B2 additive or the contaminated feed materials from the market.

An incomprehensible delay of action

Rather than take immediate action, in August 2016 the European Commission asked EFSA to prepare a new scientific opinion on the safety of riboflavin (80%). This opinion, adopted on 7 March 2018, concluded that the additive posed a risk for the “target species, consumers, users and the environment”.

However, it was not until 19 September that the European Commission issued an official ban on the illegal nutritional additive. As such, farmers are still allowed to continue using feeds that have already been produced with the additive – presumably hundreds of thousands of tonnes – until April 2019.

As members of the European Parliament, we are appalled to learn that 47 months separated the first report of the contamination on the RASFF system and the EU Commission’s reaction, especially concerning contamination involving antimicrobial resistance.

This is not the first time that the RASFF has failed to effectively fulfil its role (for example, the fypronil contamination of eggs last year). But in the vitamin B2 case, some of the member states actually used the system in an appropriate and timely manner. It is mainly the response to the RASFF alert that failed to ensure the protection of citizens and the environment.

The presence of the bacteria in vitamin B2 additives was minimised in the application for authorisation: the contaminations reported in the RASFF system should have been enough reason to temporarily withdraw the authorisation, or at least to immediately ask EFSA to review its assessment.

The Commission not only failed to protect EU citizens’ health but knowingly endangered their life.  We sent the responsible Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis a letter with the information to express our disappointment and highlight measures which could be taken to ensure such a situation does not repeat itself.

Six measures to avoid the story to repeat itself

1. The EU Commission should mandate an ad-hoc independent expert committee to analyse this case and make relevant proposals of measures to be timely taken and ensure this won’t happen again. Potential shortcomings in the EU Commission’s reaction should also be properly investigated.

2. EFSA’s first assessment was made on the basis of studies provided by VITAC in which the risks of a contamination by the GM bacteria were minimised. Later analysis of the initial samples showed the reality was different.

If EFSA had also referred properly to the published, peer-reviewed studies as a basis of its assessment, the risk of such a shortcoming would have been minimised. This is a key point and we hope that this new scandal will lead the ongoing negotiations on the General Food Law refit in the direction of more transparency and better scientific value of assessments.

3. When it comes to food and feed products produced by a GM organism, the risks coming from potential contamination by the genetically modified organism should always be assessed. If the genetically modified organism is potentially dangerous for health or the environment, the product itself should not be authorised.

4. The refusal of VITAC to contribute to the BVL study is shocking, given the risks at stakes for citizens’ health. The provision of relevant samples by the applicants to the authorities needs to be mandatory, with means of enforcement, through the temporary withdrawal of the authorisation of the product concerned for instance.

5. The delay given to farmers to use the contaminated feed – 8 months – is not acceptable in a case involving health risks. The feed needs to be withdrawn quickly, under the responsibility of the feed producers.

6. Vitamin B2 is one of the examples of food and feed products which are now only available as produced by a GMO. This is extremely problematic, as it means that any health or environmental problem occurring with the GMO put the authorities in a difficult position where they have to weigh the undeniably heavy negative economic impact of withdrawing said product against citizens’ health and safety.

It should be the role of the EU institutions to put measures in place so as to avoid this sort of situations, which endanger both our safety and our food security, for example, by supporting research and development of alternatives.

The industry cannot be trusted blindly when it comes to health or the environment. Trust may be good, controls are better. This slew of recent cases shows that blindly trusting the industry’s integrity is illusionary. Rules and enforcement measures are necessary to ensure EU citizen’s health, and this is what we will continue defending within the European Parliament.

 

Source: https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/opinion/eu-food-alert-system-exposed-to-antimicrobial-resistant-contamination/

Citizens are fed up with industrial agriculture

Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was a big issue at this year’s Green Week in Berlin. With all the billions of euros available, the agro-ecological transition is more than possible, especially if subsidies to agribusiness and factory farms were stopped, write Harriet Bradley and Trees Robijns.

Harriet Bradley is EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe. Trees Robijns is Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer at NABU, a German environmental organisation.

We are at the End of the International Green Week in Berlin, an international exhibition of the food, gardening and agriculture industries. While the businesses and marketing people were focusing mainly on digitalisation and high tech, NGOs and civil society took the opportunity to raise the alarm about the real problems. The loudest voice could be heard during the protest march: we are fed up with industrial agriculture! (Wir haben Agrarindustrie satt!).

For the 9th year and this time supported by over 100 organisations and more than 35,000 people, the streets of Berlin were filled with demands for low-impact farming, animal welfare, climate justice and good food, for thriving family farms and rural communities, for biodiversity, for pesticide-free farming, for development cooperation based on ecological principles, and for a just and ecological reform of the EU’s farm subsidies, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

That last topic – the CAP – was quite a big issue at the Green Week, and, even if the industry – and a big chunk of the Green Week organisers – pin all their hopes on high-tech ‘solutions’, civil society turned the spotlight on the politicians and how they are not even acknowledging the real issues of huge insect and farmland bird declines, the disappearance of small farmers and the sustainability of animal production.

In the same week, yet more studies and media revelations reminded the public of the sobering reality of Europe’s current farming model and subsidy system, calling the bluff on the shiny propaganda of the official Green Week fair.

And the fact that there is a lot of ‘bluff’ to be called across the EU is illustrated by the following examples from Germany.

  • The biodiversity crisis: where German scientists showed a real insectageddon inside nature protection areas. While the WHO is pointing at the carcinogenic effects of pesticides like glyphosates, the former Agriculture Minister Schmidt gave the go ahead to renew the controversial herbicides’ licence without the consent of his government colleagues causing a big popular uproar.
  • The horrendous animal welfare situation which has been exposed by video material, shot by undercover activists in factory farms.
  • And last but especially not least: the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), where the Scientific Advisory Councils to both the agriculture – as well as the environment – ministry strongly criticise the policy, which spends most of the money on flawed direct income payments that are free of any meaningful conditions.

After all this science and public uproar, it is astonishing how many EU governments and Members of the European Parliament are happily taking very clear positions to weaken down the policy, while Germany remains mostly silent.

Those speaking up are pursuing an aggressive simplification agenda: making eco-schemes voluntary, further weakening environmental spending in Pillar 2 and ring fencing money for direct income payments instead, hollowing out the basic principles of the ‘conditionality’ (the baseline for payments, previously called ‘cross compliance’ and ‘greening’), bringing in even more income support tools that harm the environment like risk management etcetera, etcetera. The list just goes on and on.

It is time to show where you stand now. Today the Agriculture Ministers of each EU country are meeting again, and they are discussing the green architecture and the ‘new delivery model’ which promised a new CAP focused on results and higher environmental ambition. We expect Germany and all other Member States to inspire us with their vision for the future of food and farming, and therefore call on ministers to stand up for nature, climate and nature-friendly farmers by supporting:

  • Real money for nature, the environment and climate: The next CAP needs to deliver at least €15bn per year for effective biodiversity measures, to be funded out of an overall 50% ring-fencing across the CAP for all environment and climate measures.
  • An end to perverse subsidies by ending the harmful aspects of coupled support, investment aid, areas of natural constraints payments, risk management and direct payments
  • Real law enforcement by strengthening the conditionality for farms getting subsidies, including setting common baselines such as 10% space for nature on all farms
  • A strong accountability and performance framework, including SMART objectives and rigorous indicators, the inclusion of environmental authorities and public interest civil society organisations in decisions on how the money is spent and finally sufficient penalties and incentives systems for Member States so as to encourage strong environmental ambition and punish cheating

With all the billions of euros available, agro-ecological transition is more than possible, all the more so if subsidies to agribusiness and factory farms were stopped. All that is currently missing is the political will to stand up to the intensive farm lobby and agribusiness interests.

In just a few months time, Europe will go to the polls. The result will have a huge impact on biodiversity, climate and long-term food production, but also on our fundamental values and rights as both citizen’s and civil society organisations. Let’s make the CAP another reason for Europe’s citizens’ to believe in Europe, and answer their demands for a fundamental reform towards environmentally sustainable farming, before they cast their vote.

 

Source: https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/opinion/citizens-are-fed-up-with-industrial-agriculture/

 

CSIC is evaluating the influence of ozone in the soil microbial quality

CSIC is using different approaches to evaluate the influence of ozone (O3) in the soil microbial quality.

For example, the biomass of the soil microbial communities is analyzed through the extraction and quantification of fatty acids from soil by gas cromatography (Pictures 1). In addition, the activity of microbial communities is measured thorugh different soil enzyme activities, such, urease, alkaline phosphatase and β-glucosidase (Picture 2), which are related to the cycles of nitrogen (N), phosphous (P) and carbon (C) in terrestrial ecosystems, respectively.

The results indicate that ozone may impact in the biomass of the soil microbial community, but also in the activity of soil enzymes. Ozone also enhanced the decomposition of soil organic matter and, hence, increased the content of water-soluble C and N fractions. In some cases, the greater availability of water-soluble compounds in treated samples can be responsible of the reduced enzyme activity by negative feedback mechanisms.

        

Picture 1. Process of extraction and separation of fatty acids from soil (left panel) and gas gromatograh utilized for measuring microbial fatty acids (right panel).

 

 

Picture 2. Examples of some soil samples utilized for analyses in AgRemSO3il (left panel) and colorimetric reaction for measuring soil phosphatase activity (right panel).

Soil is essential in the debate on how we tackle climate change

While climate change takes a toll on agriculture and land use contributes to warming the planet, soils still find little attention from policymakers in their climate strategies.

“Soil is a completely underestimated issue when we talk about climate change,” said Andrea Kohl, Programme Director at the WWF.

Kohl was speaking at the last session of a two-day public consultation conference organised by the European Commission on 10-11 July.

“Soil is essential in the debate on how we tackle climate change,” Kohl reminded the audience, underlining that “the release of just a small fraction of the soil carbon stock can offset savings achieved elsewhere.”

The session at Brussels University was focussed on the role of natural resources as part of Europe’s strategy for long-term emissions reduction.

The European Commission is working on a long-term strategy for climate change, which will contain several pathways to 2050, including one where the EU achieves carbon neutrality by mid-century.

The 2050 strategy will be published in November, just before the United Nation’s annual climate conference in Katowice, Poland, on 3-14 December. The European Council mandated the Commission to come up with a 2050 climate strategy during a summit of EU leaders in March.

Source: http://www.euractiv.com/section/climate-environment/news/soil-completely-underestimated-in-eu-climate-strategy/