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Antibiotics Naturally Present in Crops

09 July 2013

Antibiotics can be naturally present in crops and can therefore enter the food chain unintentionally. This is the conclusion of the PhD thesis ‘LC-MS residue analysis of antibiotics’ by Bjorn Berendsen, who is employed at RIKILT Wageningen University and Research centre.

It concerns the antibiotic chloramphenicol, which can be found in straw and maize. Berendsen's PhD defence took place on June 14, 2013.

Due to the problem of antibiotic resistance, the use of antibiotics in livestock production must be reduced, the paper states.

Controlling the unintentional spread of antibiotics is an important aspect of this process, according to Mr Berendsen.

The study found that, following administration to livestock, antibiotic residues can spread in the immediate surroundings of the barn. Moreover, the administered antibiotics are largely excreted in manure, which is then spread on farmland.

As a result, soil, water and crops become contaminated with residues of antibiotics, the paper implicates. Berendsen has developed extremely sensitive methods for detecting antibiotic contamination in manure, soil, crops and other environmental compartments.

The study also demonstrated that the antibiotic chloramphenicol occurs naturally in straw and maize. This antibiotic is prohibited in the EU for use in food-producing animals.

Feed or bedding

Berendsen and his RIKILT colleagues showed that chloramphenicol, which is produced by soil bacteria, is absorbed by crops. These crops are then used as feed or bedding, and in this way the antibiotic is administered unintentionally to livestock.

In his thesis, Berendsen calls for further research into the unintentional spread of antibiotics and the possible transfer of the 'natural chloramphenicol' in crops and feed to our food. This research could add an additional dimension to the issue of antibiotic resistance.

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