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Bacteriophages: old masters rediscovered

42/2019, 04.11.2019

BfR forum on bacteria-eating viruses as a resource to combat pathogens

The increasing amount of antimicrobial resistance and persistent pathogens has brought bacteriophages into focus of scientific interest again in recent years. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is therefore holding the BfR consumer protection forum "Bacteriophages - alternatives to antibiotics?" on 7. and 8. November 2019 in Berlin-Marienfelde. Experts from research, food monitoring and the food industry will introduce the topic and discuss the opportunities and risks involved in using phages in food production. Bacteriophages are viruses that exclusively infect bacteria. Wherever bacteria can be found, phages are also present - in the ground, in water or in our food - without harming humans. "Illnesses caused by bacteria in food are a big, global problem," says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the BfR. The pathogens are present in most livestock, from which they are transferred to the finished food products via the slaughter process. "There is therefore an urgent need to develop alternative methods to reduce the occurrence of pathogens in the production and processing of foodstuffs," Hensel continued. This is where bacteriophages are considered as an alternative.

Bacteriophages are characterised by the fact that they can infect and kill particular bacteria in a targeted way. Bacteriophages were used to treat bacterial infections as early on as at the start of the 20th century. After the discovery of antibiotic substances and the wide-ranging use of these as medicines, bacteriophages were forgotten in most countries.

Phage preparations are already used in food production in countries outside of the EU. The EU commission has also received an application for approval of a preparation to fight listeria in food and production facilities, on which no decision has been made so far.

Phage applications, such as use in therapy for ill people or animals and for fighting multi-resistant pathogens, will be presented at the convention. The current legal classification for the use of phages in food production will also be addressed. In particular, the current state of knowledge and pressing questions for the safe use of phages will be discussed at the event.

EU Commission link:

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.

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