6/9/2011 --- Researchers from TNO claim to have made a world wide breakthrough in the battle against lethal bacteria such as E.coli (EHEC). Food scientists from TNO were able to find natural ingredients that effectively cut bacteria short that had become resistent to antibiotics. The discovery has been tested using the ESBL-bactera, but is also applicable against the EHEC-bacteria. The finding comes at a time when the bacteria has made more than 20 lethal victims in Germany and has infected thousands. In The Netherlands the fear for the life-threatening bacterium has also been growing.
Unfortunately for the people in Germany and elsewhere currently infected with the bacteria, this discovery offers no immediate solace. Dr Jan Pieter van der Lugt, Director of Food & Nutrition at TNO explains: “We need another six months to develop this discovery into a readymade solution. After that we have to ensure that the solution complies with government regulations. Compliance is a very time-consuming process, so I estimate that it will be another two years before the solution is available, in the practice of livestock breeders and feed companies, and that the reduction of the number of dangerous bacteria from the source will be accomplished.”
“This breakthrough is vital to the future of public health,” continues Dr Van der Lugt. “There are countless bacteria out there capable of mutating into equally dangerous counterparts to the EHEC bacteria. For instance, 94 percent of the chicken in our supermarkets is infected with ESBL bacteria which have also become resistant to antibiotics."
As Dr Van der Lugt observes, it’s all a matter of approach: “Protecting yourself from ESBL bacteria is one solution but the real solution lies in tackling the root of the problem, which is the development of resistance to antibiotics throughout the veterinary sector, from livestock farming to feed companies. The excessive use of antibiotics in that sector means that more and more of these substances are finding their way into our food. Eventually bacteria get so used to them that they become resistant. So if we become seriously ill, due to infection with ESBL or EHEC for example, there are no antibiotics left that can kill these bacteria. Thankfully we still have a handful of powerful antibiotics that are successful in combating many illnesses, but fundamental change is needed to prevent a situation in which we will soon be powerless in the face of deadly diseases."
TNO’s study was initially aimed at ridding the entire food chain of antibiotics, from the barn to the dinner table. Dr Van der Lugt continues: “It’s only logical that livestock farmers want to keep their cows, pigs, chicken and calves healthy. But pumping them full of antibiotics creates a ticking time bomb. Eventually it will work against us. We are therefore going in search of ingredients already found in the natural world which can kill harmful bacteria. TNO now wants to expand the study to establish a larger programme involving almost 30 companies. If we can give animals clean food at the start of the chain, that will ensure that the food on our table is safe.”
To this end, TNO researchers have established a library that contains the thousands of bacteria that live in our digestive system. They have mapped out exactly how these bacteria reproduce, what they respond to and what kills them. That knowledge is now being applied to combating the ESBL bacteria. Using good old-fashioned detective work and ongoing experiments, researchers were able to find a mix of natural ingredients that can kill these harmful bacteria. The mix has now been extensively tested on infected chickens, resulting in an astounding recovery. This approach will enable us to effectively combat new dangers resulting from multi-resistant bacteria in future.
News of the breakthrough in this area comes shortly after it was announced that the EU will pay an aid amounting to at least 150 million euro to farmers who suffered losses due to the E. coli outbreak. This was proposed by the Commission at the Agriculture Council’s extraordinary meeting, on 7 June 2011 in Luxembourg.
The European Commission’s proposal was presented by the Commissioner for Agriculture, Dacian Ciolos. In the press conference after the extraordinary meeting, Mr Ciolos said in detail that under Article 191 (emergency measures) of the Council Regulation (EC) No. 1234/2007, on the Single Common Market Organisation, compensation will be paid out by means of a Commission Regulation, for the losses having occurred between the end of May and the end of June.The proposal of Mr Ciolos mentioned 150 million euro, which is estimated to cover 30 percent of the actual damages. At the same time, many Member States have urged for 100 percent compensation. To this end, Mr Ciolos has promised a rapid revision of the text and to increase the amount of compensation.
Mr Ciolos announced in the press conference that the Commission will submit the new proposal as early as next day, on 8 June, in which a larger amount of compensation will be presented.The regulation will be adopted in the Commission within the next 3 days, and the decision can be approved on 14 June by the Management Committee, consisting of representatives oof Member States agricultural ministries.
The calculation of the compensation is based on the June prices in the years between 2007 and 2010.The full amount of the compensation is paid from the EU’s common budget, through the producer organisations (PO), but non PO-member farmers may also receive reimbursement.
In view of the crisis, the Commission plans to apply the effective regulations in a flexible manner.Therefore, it will allow product withdrawals exceeding 5 percent and the application of non-harvest in areas where the harvesting season has already started.
Mr Ciolos added that farmers may receive extra compensation from the POs, in addition to the compensation paid from the EU’s budget.
Mr Fazekas said in the press conference that all Member State representatives have contributed during the intense debate. Many Member States asked for 100 percent compensation and urged for widening the scope of products concerned and the raising of the price base for compensation, he added.
In the Agriculture Council’s informal meeting on 31 June, in Debrecen, Spanish agricultural minister, Rosa Aguilar said to journalists that the plummeting demand for vegetables was causing Spanish farmers 200 million euro in damages every week.
Mr Fazekas stressed in Luxembourg, “Although laboratory tests has already proved that the source of the infection is neither cucumber nor bean sprout, the drastic drop in vegetable consumption has made half or two-thirds of the vegetables produced in Europe unmarketable. This situation must be addressed by a European cooperation. Farmers must regain their faith and we cannot abandon them,” the minister stressed.
Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli also gave information on the food safety aspects and newest developments of the E. coli outbreak.
In the press conference after the Council meeting, Mr Dali urged for ”coordinated and transparent information”, as well as caution against “drawing premature conclusions”.He stressed that the outbreak is limited to northern Germany’s Hamburg area, and said that “there is no need to ban food imports”.
After the issue of the diarrhoea outbreak, the ministers discussed the impact of drought on the cattle sector. This issue was put on the agenda by the request of France and it was backed by Belgium.
On 6 June 2011, one day before the Agriculture Council’s meeting, health ministers discussed the E.coli outbreak’s aspects on human health.
The outbreak was caused by a virulent strain of the Escherichia coli bacillus. The first infection was detected on 22 May 2011.Based on the data of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on 7 June, the bacteria has so far infected 2429 people in 13 EU Member States; and 23 of them has resulted in death (22 in Germany and 1 in Sweden).
This is one of the largest known E. coli outbreaks in the world. The incubation period of the disease is one week, and the symptoms are stomach pain and bloody diarrhoea. In the most serious cases it can lead to kidney failure and even death.