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Corn Ethanol Biofuels Contaminated with Antibiotics

Saturday, November 07, 2009 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: ethanol, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) Byproducts from the production of corn for ethanol biofuels have been found to be contaminated with antibiotics.

"Ethanol's drug problem is just the latest of many reasons to impose a moratorium on production of fuels from grains," wrote Stan Cox for the Land Institute's Prairie Writers Circle. "If industry cannot supply sufficient quantities of alternative fuels without risking an even deeper medical crisis, it might just be another sign that our thirst for vehicle fuel has outgrown all ecological limits."

Ethanol production has previously been criticized for diverting land from food to fuel production and for degrading soil, depleting water supplies and increasing various forms of pollution.

"Now to the list of ethanol's environmental insults we can add pharmaceutical pollution," Cox wrote.

Because bacteria can interfere with the fermentation process that converts corn into ethanol, biofuel producers regularly add antibiotics to their fermentation stock in order to increase output between 1 and 5 percent. This is not a standard procedure in the spirits industry, which also ferments various products into ethanol -- also known as alcohol.

Scientists fear that widespread antibiotic use in the booming ethanol industry will only worsen the problem already created by overuse of the drugs both medically and agriculturally: accelerating the evolution of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

The ethanol industry has claimed that its antibiotic use is safe, since the drugs are not detected in any product meant for human consumption. Yet active antibiotics have turned up in tests of distillers grain, the ethanol byproduct that is becoming increasingly popular as cattle feed. And drug-resistant bacteria have been found at higher concentrations downstream from ethanol processing plants.

Because bacteria are capable of exchanging genetic material between individuals and even between species, overuse of antibiotics in one area can easily lead to the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria of completely different types.

Public health regulators have erred in thinking clinically "rather than ecologically in terms of reservoirs of resistance genes that may flow across the microbial ecosystem," Johns Hopkins University researchers wrote in 2008.

Two-thirds of fatal infections in the United States are caused by drug-resistant bacteria.

Sources for this story include: www.counterpunch.org.

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