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BioCop - New Technologies to Screen Multiple Contaminants in Foods
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The Project

The Project Summary
Summary of the BioCop project.
The Project Objectives
Objectives of the BioCop project.
BioCop Structure
Shows the structure of the BioCop project and the organisations involved.
Work Packages
Information on the 13 different BioCop Work Packages.
Benefits to the Consumer
Benefits of the BioCop programme for Consumers.
Benefits for Scientists
Benefits of the BioCop programme for Scientists.
Benefits to the Food Industry
Benefits of the BioCop programme to the Food Industry.
Current BioCop vacancies.

The Project Objectives

There is growing public concern regarding contaminants in food. Such agents include pesticides, growth promoters, therapeutic drugs, endocrine disrupters, natural toxins and heavy metals. In a recent EU funded study 23,000 people were interviewed on their perceptions of the safety of food. More than 60% of people indicated that they were 'Very Concerned About the Safety of Food' with regard chemical contaminants. Though advances have been made in making the European food chain the safest in the world our consumers are not yet convinced. This has been recognised and the issue of the restoration of consumer confidence is a key part in the White Paper on Food Safety.

The need for scientific advances in food contaminant monitoring

Why are better methods required for monitoring chemical contaminants? It has been estimated that in the USA more than 250 million chemical analyses are performed each day 1 and more than 10% of these are of a poor standard and had to be repeated. These figures are supported by the European Commission2, which estimated that at least 5% of the Gross National Product activities of European Countries are devoted to measurement and millions of Euro are wasted each year by the need to repeat poor quality tests.

The scope of the analytical problem

The total number of crop protective ingredients produced worldwide each year is around a thousand. The array of licensed therapeutic drugs available numbers over 2000 and several hundred illegal preparations are believed to exist. Add to this the thousands of chemicals with endocrine disrupting activity plus the complexities of natural toxin formation then the true scope of the difficulties facing monitoring for chemical contaminants in food becomes apparent. Due to the testing procedures used monitoring of contaminants in food is very limited. Despite these limitations problems are frequently found but this leads to the question:

What is the real extent of the chemical contamination problems in food?

The European Commission Rapid Alert system gives a picture of the problems that exist with regard food contamination based on existing testing capabilities (Table 2.1). Many of these are chemical based alerts. The true picture is likely to be much worse and requires better methods of monitoring to aid prevention of contamination.

Table 2.1 shows EC Rapid Alerts Notification (2002). More than 60% are related to chemical issues.

Chemical30%61% chemical related
Veterinary drug residues21%
Pesticide residues10%
Not determined4% 
Foreign bodies3%

Specific objectives

The first outputs of BioCop will yield a range of novel screening tests for chemical contaminants. These will be heavily scrutinised by the analyte-based experts in the project team to ensure they are fit-for-purpose.

The main objectives of BioCop in addressing the problems are as follows:

  • The development of screening methods for a range of pesticides, heavy metals, natural toxins, therapeutic drugs and endocrine disrupters in food. These innovative screening tests will employ transcriptomics, proteomics and biosensor technology to monitor and control multiple chemical contaminants in food. The analytical targets for this work are the production of robust assays that meet current or proposed legislative requirements e.g. MRLs or internationally accepted limits of detection (LOD) [see individual WPs for individual targets].
  • The development of innovative means of performing sample preparation based on aptamers, microwave, & pressurised liquid extraction to permit the rapid co-extraction of multiple chemical contaminants from a range of food matrices. The target for this work is the ability to produce at least 30 sample extracts per day, which are compatible with the solvent capabilities of the new, screening assays.
  • The improvement of existing confirmatory methods to support the newly developed innovative multi-analyte screening procedures (only where current chemical methods are known to be inadequate in terms of legislation or LOD).
  • The training of scientists within the project and from external laboratories to use the newly developed analytical tools in the most effective manner.
  • The widespread dissemination of project information to audiences ranging from scientists to consumers and regulators.
  • The provision of long-term training mechanisms for BioCop technologies though higher learning institutions e.g. SARAF and the development of an MSc (see later).
  • To eventually bring the new tests developed to the market place through the inclusion of the wide range of commercial partners included in the project.

Throughout the project the scientific community will be kept well informed about the progress of the research. This includes formation of strong links with other related EC food safety projects. Equally importantly consumers and decision-makers (regulatory and industrial) will be informed about how the project progress is helping achieve the mutual requirement of a healthier, safer food supply to the European consumer.


In summary, the BioCop project aims to solve the problems associated with the ability to monitor and prevent chemical contaminants in food products. The bio-analytical approaches proposed are highly innovative but truly realistic. The careful planning and management described in the following sections of the technical annex for the project will allow a flow of successful new techniques to be developed and implemented.

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