HC Deb 08 March 2000 vol 345 cc743-4W
Joan Ruddock

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will list the antibiotics to which marker genes used in the production of genetically modified crops convey resistance and the medical uses of those antibiotics. [108628]

Yvette Cooper

Marker genes conveying resistance to a number of antibiotics have been used in the production of genetically modified crops around the world. Those used in the development of Genetically Modified (GM) crops that have been submitted for evaluation in the UK, either for food use or for release to the environment (either marketing consent or for experimental releases), are listed in the table:

Gene Antibiotic
Kanr (nptll or neo) Amnioglycoside antibiotics including kanamycin, and neomycin
Strepr/specr (or aad) Streptomycin and spectinomycin
Ampr (or bla) Narrow spectrum βlactam antibiotics such as ampicillin and amoxycillin
Tc Tetracycline
Nptlll Amikacin
Hpt Hygromycin

In some instances marker genes have been used in the early laboratory stages of the development of GM crops but are not present in the final crop plants. In addition, all foods derived from GM crops that are currently available in Europe are highly processed before consumption and the genetic material is no longer viable.

The medical uses of these antibiotics are as follows:

Antibiotic Medical uses
Kanamycin, neomycin (aminoglycosides) Kanamycin is not commonly used now. Neomycin is used locally for ear or skin infections and may be used to reduce microbial load prior to bowel surgery. It is not used parenterally
Streptomycin, spectinomycin Streptomycin and spectinomycin are of value in the treatment of serious infections such as TB, and for treating gentamicin-resistant enterococcal endocarditis. They are also used in the treatment of gonorrhoea
Ampicillin, amoxycillin βlactam antibiotics are widely used to treat all forms of infection
Tetracyclines Group of broad-spectrum antibiotics used to treat acne, respiratory infections and sexually transmitted diseases. Also used in treatment of infections in penicillin-allergic patients
Amikacin Another aminoglycoside used to treat serious Gram-negative infections, especially those caused by organisms resistant to gentamicin (the aminoglycoside of choice)
Hygromycin Veterinary antibiotic

The safety of any genetically modified food is carefully and rigorously assessed before it can be marketed in the United Kingdom. This evaluation will include an assessment of any potential adverse effects on health of the novel food, including the health implications of any antibiotic resistance markers that may be present in the food, taking a precautionary approach.