Press Release 05.12.2018

Animal feed throughout Europe contaminated with unauthorised genetically modified bacteria from nutritional additives

  • Animal feed throughout Europe contaminated with unauthorised genetically modified bacteria from nutritional additives
  • European Food Safety Authority: the genetically modified bacteria found in the nutritional additives are resistant to antimicrobials and pose risks to animals, consumers and the environment
  • foodwatch: the competent authorities and European Commission have known about the situation for years

Berlin/Amsterdam/Paris, 5 December 2018. Large quantities of unauthorised vitamin products from China containing viable, genetically modified bacteria have been introduced into the human food chain in Europe via feed additives from a Dutch animal-nutrition supplier. This information was recently reported to the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) by the Belgian authorities. The unauthorised substance is a livestock feed additive known as "vitamin B2 (80%)” or "riboflavin (80%)”. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the genetically modified organisms contained in the additive carry antimicrobial resistance genes that pose risks to consumers.

As early as 2014, the German and British authorities informed the EU after having identified similar cases of unauthorised genetically modified bacteria in vitamin B2 additives. However, the European Commission did not officially ban the use of this nutritional additive until September 2018. At the same time, it gave farmers another six months (until April 2019) to continue using feeds that had already been produced with the contaminated vitamin product. The consumer organisation foodwatch described the Commission's actions as a clear breach of both European GMO legislation and the precautionary principle enshrined in EU food law.

"It is shocking that for years the European Commission has been not only ignoring the health risks associated with genetically modified organisms, but also tolerating the completely unnecessary spread of antimicrobial resistance through illegal feed additives – in spite of the fact that the EU officially portrays itself as a global leader in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. Apparently, when profits are at stake, the European Commission has no problem accepting viable, genetically modified bacteria carrying antimicrobial resistance genes to be fed to Europe's livestock in spite of explicit warnings by the European Food Safety Authority”, explained Matthias Wolfschmidt, campaign director of foodwatch International. 

According to information from foodwatch, at least eight tonnes of the illegal Chinese vitamin B2 additive with genetically modified bacteria have been imported to Europe this year by the Netherlands-based animal nutrition supplier Trouw Nutrition. These additives may have already been mixed into over one million tonnes of animal feed. Currently, the competent authorities in the affected Member States, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, are silently withdrawing the existing stocks of contaminated feed from the market. However, as foodwatch criticised, they have yet to inform the public.

To make matters worse, Europe's farmers may have been using feed with the unauthorised additive for years. As early as 2014, the German and British authorities warned other Member States via the RASFF after discovering the presence of unauthorised genetically modified bacteria in vitamin B2 feed additives from China. 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. However, at the time no measures were taken to withdraw the vitamin B2 additive or the contaminated feed materials from the market. Instead, 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, a full six months later, that the European Commission issued an official ban on the illegal nutritional additive. Until April 2019, farmers are allowed to continue using feeds that have already been produced with the additive - presumably hundreds of thousands of tonnes.

The RASFF reported that the contaminated products have been distributed to 20 different European countries. According to information from foodwatch, it took several weeks for the Dutch authorities to trace the supply chain for these products. The French newspaper Le Monde estimated that, in France alone, at least 150 tonnes of feed have been contaminated with the hazardous nutritional additive.

Sources and further information

Scientific Opinion adopted by EFSA on 7 March 2018. "Safety of vitamin B2 (80%) as riboflavin produced by Bacillus subtilis KCCM-10445 for all animal species”

Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2018/1254 of 19 September 2018 concerning the denial of authorisation of riboflavin 80%

RASFF notification from Germany, 6 October 2014

RASFF notification from the UK, 4 December 2014

Le Monde: "Au moins 150 tonnes d’aliments pour bétail contaminées en France par un OGM interdit” (French)

Paracchini et al., 2017: "Molecular characterization of an unauthorized genetically modified Bacillus subtilis production strain identified in a vitamin B2 feed additive” (English)