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Report on the use of EU Reference Methods and JRC decision tools for GMO analysis

To ensure harmonised scientific and technical approaches for GMO detection the European Union Reference Laboratory for GM Food and Feed (EURL GMFF) at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) has developed a freely accessible database, called “GMOMETHODS" providing a state-of-the-art catalogue of EU reference methods for GMO analysis. The EURL GMFF launched in 2015 a survey to assess the use of these EU reference methods by the official GMO control laboratories in the EU and to collect information on non-EU reference methods possibly employed for the same purpose. The survey aimed also to verify if, and to which extent, laboratories use two decision supporting tools, the JRC GMO-Matrix and Event-Finder which are available on the web site of the EURL GMFF. The survey was also directed to verify the types and frequencies of modifications possibly implemented in the protocols of the validated methods used by the official control laboratories. Results from the survey indicate that almost all official control laboratories (98 %) are using event-specific EU reference methods for quantifying GMOs while a lower number of laboratories is using EU reference methods for qualitative analyses (55 % for element-specific methods and 40 % for construct-specific methods). The use of qualitative non-EU reference methods for screening purposes may reflect the laboratory needs when facing rapid alert emergencies of quickly implementing analytical strategies for detecting non-authorised GM events. Indeed genetically modified crops have continued to increase globally, both in terms of approval status and event/trait diversification. In those cases methods validated in collaborative studies and having the status of EU-reference methods are generally not yet available. In the survey close to half of the respondents (41 %-47 %) declared also to employ to different extents the two JRC decision supporting tools, GMO-Matrix and Event-Finder. Interestingly the survey shows that almost half of the protocols of the reference methods used by the laboratories are somewhat adapted to laboratory specific conditions, mainly with respect to the master mix and the reaction volume of the polymerase chain reactions (PCR) while the primers and probes are never modified. In all cases, the impact of these modifications had been verified by the control laboratory to ensure the equivalence between the adapted and the original protocols. Without such proof, the laboratory would lose its mandatory accreditation. Moreover, participants in Comparative Testing schemes have achieve generally high score performance using those adapted methods suggesting that the modifications implemented do not affect analytical sensitivity, trueness and precision of the original protocols. The outcome of the 2015 survey reveals therefore that the combined efforts of the EURL GMFF and ENGL have been successful for enhancing harmonisation in quantitative GMO analysis by the adoption of scientific and technical approaches. This achievement allows the consistency of results for GM labelling and an equal-level playing field in the EU Member States.