Heavy metals may reach the food chain through their natural and anthropogenic presence. Some heavy metals have nutritional functions and are essential to health. But others such as lead, cadmium and mercury have no nutritional relevance and need to be monitored as their presence in the atmosphere, soil and water, even in traces can cause serious problems to all organisms. Heavy metals enter the human body mainly through ingestion of water and food. This can have a significant impact on human health.
To reduce the risk to human health associated with high heavy metal content in food and feed, the EURL’s task is to facilitate the implementation of Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 and Directive 2001/22/EC establishing maximum levels of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium in different foods.
Since 2006, the EURL for heavy metals has carried out more than 15 proficiency tests on the determination of arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead in food and feed products including pet feed. It has validated a method for the determination of methyl mercury in seafood and is currently organizing a collaborative trial related to the determination of inorganic arsenic in food of vegetable origin.
One of the core tasks of the EURLs is to organise interlaboratory comparisons where the appointed national reference laboratories can participate. Furthermore it supports and gives advice to the European authorities and the NRLs on scientific matters. Development and validation of standardised analytical methods can also be carried out if the national reference laboratories ask for it, as well as training on the relevant European legislation. The three types of matrices covered by the EURLs are: wild caught fish, food of plant origin and animal feed.
The following activities are carried out by the EURL-HM on a yearly basis:
- Two to three proficiency testing (PT) for the determination of several analytes (such as As, Cd, Pb, Hg, iAs and/or MetHg) in various matrices belonging to food of non-animal origin, feed or wild caught fish;
- One workshop of the network of appointed National Reference Laboratories;
- Providing support to Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection on technical matters related to analysis of heavy metals; participation in the Working Groups (WG) of National Experts on Industrial Contaminants in food, and Analytical Methods in Feed ;
- Providing support to standardisation bodies, such as CEN, by participating in the working groups of the Technical Committees: CEN/TC327/WG1 "Minerals and Contaminants", and CEN/TC275/WG10 "Trace Elements".
Support and visits to NRLs are done on ad-hoc basis upon request.