Bacteriophages ("phages") are viruses that infect bacteria. They are potential alternatives to the use of antibiotics, pesticides, and chemical disinfectants and preservatives in agriculture and food production to control bacterial pathogens. Phages are considered safe, cost-effective, and environmentally benign because they occur naturally in the environment and their use could avoid or reduce the use of chemical agents. Several products have been commercialized for use in agriculture and in the food processing industry. But overall, there is little experience with the large-scale use of bacteriophages in Europe and Germany. In addition, many questions concerning their safety assessment with regard to the protection of health, the environment and consumers and their approval are still unresolved.
The aim of the project is to provide a policy-oriented analysis on research, development and application of phages in agriculture and food production as a basis of information and guidance for political mandates and decision makers.
On this basis, the innovation and problem-solving potentials of phages will be evaluated. Innovation policy options for action will be elaborated how a socially desirable support of research and development of phage-based applications in agriculture and food production could be achieved.
Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated the potential of bacteriophages to reduce the number of bacteria along the food chain that cause disease in humans, animals or plants. Bacteriophages can thus complement existing measures for integrated pest management, food hygiene and the One Health concept, but by no means replace them. A few commercial products are in use internationally.
However, it is unlikely that phage applications will become more widely established in agricultural and industrial practice in the foreseeable future under the prevailing framework conditions. To overcome the current hurdles, the following recommendations are given: Phages as biocontrol agents should be given a higher political priority in order to give this option an open chance. To this end, the regulatory framework would have to be improved (consensus on the classification of bacteriophages under food law, guidelines for applicants in the context of approval and licensing procedures, consideration of biocontrol agent specifics in relevant legislation). Public funding of research, development and innovation on bacteriophages should be intensified and embedded in dialogue and networking activities between stakeholders from science, companies, authorities, and civil society.
The report can be found via this link (only in German language)
This report was prepared as an expert opinion on behalf of the German Bundestag and submitted to the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB). The contents of this expert opinion, together with further work, have been incorporated into a TAB report:
König, H.; Sauter, A. (2023): Bakteriophagen in Medizin, Land- und Lebensmittelwirtschaft – Anwendungsperspektiven, Innovations- und Regulierungsfragen. Innovationsanalyse. Berlin: Büro für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung beim Deutschen Bundestag (TAB). doi:10.5445/IR/1000160512
For more information in English language please see
TAB-Fokus no. 43: Bacteriophages in medicine, agriculture and food industry – application perspectives, innovation and regulatory issues (PDF). doi:10.5445/IR/1000161932