Commissioner Franz Fischler visits the Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM)

July 15, 2002

Brussels, 12 July 2002

"The work carried out at Geel is important and makes an invaluable contribution to the smooth working of the CAP." said Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development on a visit to the Institute on 12 July. Especially following the Commission's mid-term review proposals, the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) requires science and measurements to ensure the quality and safety of food, agricultural and consumer products.

"Earlier this month it was possible to have at our disposal a test to determine rapidly and accurately the gender of beef meat. This is an invaluable tool in the fight against fraud and was made possible thanks to the work carried out here at Geel." IRMM's mandate lies in the promotion of a common European measurement system by developing, producing and providing reference materials and measurements.

Some examples for IRMM's contribution to agriculture and fisheries are:

Gender Testing of Beef

The export and import of beef in the EU carries a subsidy difference of some € 130 per 100 kg of meat, depending on whether the beef is declared as male (considered to be of higher quality) or female. The volume of beef trade amounts to several billion € per year in Europe: there are concrete risks of fraud, due to the fact the European beef market is large and prices low. Therefore to fight fraud, the correct beef gender declaration at EU level must be ensured. The IRMM carried out a feasibility study on current analytical methods in use. The results showed that the most promising technique is polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with subsequent gel electrophoresis, as it best fulfils the requirements for rapid and accurate sexing of meat and showed reliability for regular use. This has now been included in EU legislation which entered into force on 1 July 2002. (1)

BSE Research

In 1999, IRMM successfully completed a project on post-mortem Testing for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathies (BSE) which became the means to perform the recent screening of cattle throughout Europe.

This work involved the preparation and distribution of over 14000 BSE infected and non-infected samples to 4 different companies, the supervision of the measurements and the evaluation of some 5290 results. Three rapid post-mortem BSE tests showed remarkable effectiveness and achieved 100% success in distinguishing animals clinically affected with BSE from healthy animals. This breakthrough in BSE research enabled the establishment of a Europe wide monitoring programme of several million cattle per year.

The screening programme led to the discovery of an unexpected number of BSE cases in unsuspected countries and consequently important regulatory decisions were made, particularly the extension of the obligatory testing to all animals slaughtered above the age of 30 months and the (up to now temporary) ban on the use of animal meals in feed, not only for ruminants as had already existed, but also for other farm animals like chicken and pigs.

As a follow up study, in 2002 the IRMM completed the evaluation of tests to detect BSE at the pre-clinical stage (i.e. before the animal shows symptoms of the disease) and the report on this work was recently published at . Ongoing work is directed towards differentiating between various Transmissable Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) and assessing the

performance of Member State laboratories involved in the monitoring programme.

Certified Reference Materials (CRMs)

CRMs constitute an essential tool in achieving comparability and traceability of measurements - vital components for the agricultural sector. Second only to the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) in USA, the IRMM is at the forefront for the production, (re)certification and distribution of Certified Reference Materials (CRMs). At present IRMM offers over 500 different IRMM and BCR CRMs, with a total stock load of some 500 000 samples and an annual sales value of approximately 1,2 MEURO. Here some examples for RMs relevant to agriculture.

GMOs: IRMM has produced since 1997 the world's first reference materials for Genetically Modified Organisms (up to now over 80.000 samples) and collaborates with the JRC Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) in the validation of methods for detecting levels of GMOs in Food and Feed stuffs.

Dioxins/PCBs: To provide measurement support in the advent of the 1999 dioxin crisis, IRMM provided BCR (2) reference materials for PCB (Polychlorinated Biphenyl) analysis and immediately undertook an action to prepare and certify (doped) pork reference materials. This new set of CRMs in pork fat matrix were made available for Quality Control measurements in laboratories EU-wide.

In addition, IRMM provides a wide range of BCR ® and IRMM certified reference materials to support agriculture and food safety from water and food microbiology (e.g. salmonella typhimurium in milk powder) to veterinary drugs and hormone residues.

DNA CRMs: In 2001, IRMM produced the first pure DNA reference materials for various food borne pathogens (E Coli, Salmonella, Listeria, Yersinia and Campylobacter) and because the materials proved sufficiently stable (transport at ambient temperature possible) and the DNA quality remained intact after reconstitution, this technique can now be implemented for other types of DNA reference materials (clinical, GMO etc.).

Cocoa Butter CRM: In cocoa butter, the addition of vegetable fat other than cocoa butter may not exceed 5 % (2000/36/EC), so to monitor and prevent adulteration, the detection and quantification by triglyceride analysis is required. IRMM has already produced 16000 units of a candidate reference material.

EUROSOIL CRMs : The classification of dangerous substances and new chemical products and the assessment of their physico-chemical properties, toxicity, ecotoxicity and environmental hazards, also includes the study of chemical adsorption in soils. CRMs are required to provide harmonisation of classification methods and standardisation of experimental soils in order to ensure comparability of results and proper risk assessment.

Radionuclides: Because IRMM is one of the few laboratories in Europe which can obtain SI-traceable activity reference values, a recent project on the establishment of radionuclide concentrations in both milk powder and soil has commenced in collaboration with the IAEA (3) .

The International Measurement Evaluation Programme (IMEP)

IMEP is an awareness programme that shows the true state of chemical measurements on an international scale for issues like cadmium in rice, trace elements in water, lead in wine, actinides in environmental samples, trace elements in sediments, etc. IRMM founded the programme in 1985, has conducted some 15 evaluation rounds incorporating over 1000 laboratories world-wide. IMEP runs under the auspices of IUPAC (4) , EURACHEM (5) , EUROMET and CITAC (6) and rounds are often used by the CCQM (7) in key comparisons (e.g. IMEP-9 "Trace elements in water", IMEP-16 "Lead in wine", IMEP-19 "Cadmium in rice") to evaluate the measurement capability of National Measurement Institutes from the EU, USA, Japan, Canada, Russia and South Korea. Present and future IMEP rounds will have particular focus on Candidate Countries.

Reference Measurements

Reference Measurements provide cornerstones to ensure the quality and safety of food, agricultural and consumer products since they allow the unambiguous characterisation of a product's composition. IRMM develops reference methods required for the implementation of EU policies on various topics such as detecting antibiotics in domestic meat supplies, selenium in feed stuff and the adulteration of milk and industrial syrups.

For further information see:
(1) EU Regulation 765/2002
(2) Bureau Communautaire de R éf érence
(3) International Atomic Energy Agency
(4) International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry
(5) European Analytical Chemistry
(6) Co-operation on International Traceability in Analytical Chemistry
(7) Committee for Amount of Substance

DN: IP/02/1046 Date: 12/07/2002

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