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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



Consumers and regulators both demand that food on sale should be safe to eat. A wide range of natural and man-made substances can get into food on the farm or at any point in the supply chain. They can make it unpalatable or dangerous, so tests for potentially harmful contaminants are essential. At present, such procedures are laborious and expensive, as each unwanted chemical or biological agent has to be tested for separately. Advances in biological technology offer the possibility of much faster and cheaper tests for food contaminants, but these procedures need substantial development to make them practical to use for routine monitoring purposes.

BioCop is a major five-year Integrated Project to develop novel tools and methods based on emerging biotechnologies to screen food for a range of chemical contaminants. Such an ambitious goal requires cooperation between Europe's food research organisations and expert laboratories. It involves experts and specialists in food sciences from 32 European universities, government agencies, industrial concerns and small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). Canada will also play a key role in the project. The project participants are focusing on the most damaging chemical contaminants which may be present in cereals, meats, seafood and processed food. The methods developed will be demonstrated to a wide range of potential end-users in government and industry.


The foreign substances that can get into foodstuffs are diverse. They include pesticide and hormone residues, heavy metals, illegal growth promoters given to livestock, and toxins that shellfish can accumulate from polluted water. Many of these substances can be found in a wide range of food commodities and a huge amount of time and effort is now invested in monitoring for their presence by regulatory and industrial laboratories. Baby and infant food is of particular concern, as immature systems are especially vulnerable.

The BioCop approach is to develop a range of new tools that can measure the cumulative effect of contaminants rather than analysing each one separately. They will be based on biomarker and fingerprinting concepts, using new technologies. Transcriptomics is being used in assays of phytoestrogens, organochlorines and tricothecenes, especially in baby and infant food. Proteomics is another new technique that uses protein biomarkers to detect hormones administered illegally to promote animal growth. Novel biosensor receptors are being developed for pesticide molecules and shellfish toxins, while electrochemical sensors will assess lead and mercury contamination. The overall objective is high throughput analysis of multiple contaminants at the same time.

Another key development will be new methods for preparing samples for analysis. High-powered extraction using microwaves and pressurised liquid solvents and aptamer techniques are examples of what will be developed.


BioCop will help to ensure the safety of European food and safeguard the health of the people who eat it. It will provide methods to reinforce the European Maximum Level Residue targets and other international standards for foods. Overall, the programme will deliver long-term solutions to the complex problems of food analysis for the benefit of regulators, consumers and society in general.

The analytical methods developed will advance knowledge in the field and offer commercial opportunities to a broad range of European companies. The programme contains a substantial element of training in the new techniques, which should result in new employment possibilities as the methods are adopted and widely applied not only in Europe but also worldwide.

List of Partners

  • Queen's University, Belfast (UK)
  • Food Directorate, Health Canada, Ottawa (Canada)
  • RIVM (The Netherlands)
  • Biacore AB (Sweden)
  • University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain)
  • University of Zurich (Switzerland)
  • Xenosense (UK)
  • RIKILT DLO (The Netherlands)
  • National Veterinary School (France)
  • Laboratoire d'Hormonologie (Belgium)
  • Turku University (Finland)
  • Institute of Chemical Technology (Czech Republic)
  • EU Joint Research Centre (IRMM), Geel (Belgium)
  • University of Utrecht (The Netherlands)
  • NestlÚ Research Centre (Switzerland)
  • Central Science Laboratory (UK)
  • Fusion Antibodies (UK)
  • Institute of Biochemistry (Lithuania)
  • Diane McCrea Consulting (UK)
  • Eurofins/Wiertz-Eggert-J÷rissen (Germany)
  • Centre d'Analyse des Residus en Traces (Belgium)
  • Clondiag (Germany)
  • GeneData AG (Switzerland)
  • ANFACO (Fish Confederation) (Spain)
  • Community Reference Laboratory for Marine Biotoxins, Vigo (Spain)
  • Palmsens (The Netherlands)
  • Biopure (Austria)
  • AFSSA, EU Community Reference Laboratory (France)
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Sweden)
  • National Food Centre, Dublin (Ireland)
  • UniversitÓ di Roma Tor Vergata (Italy)
  • Center for Analytical Chemistry (Austria)
  • Health Canada, Ottawa (Canada)
Full title:
New technologies to screen multiple chemical contaminants in foods
Contract n░:
Project co-ordinator:
Chris Elliott, Queen's University, Belfast,
EC Scientific Officer:
Dirk Pottier,
EU contribution:
€ 9.6M
Integrated Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top