, Volume 378, Issue 5, pp 1152-1160
Date: 13 Dec 2003

Natural toxins: risks, regulations and the analytical situation in Europe

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Abstract

Natural toxins in food and feed are considered important food safety issues of growing concern, in particular mycotoxins, phycotoxins and plant toxins. Most scientific developments have occurred in the past few decades in the area of mycotoxins. Formal health risk assessments have been carried out by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization. Limits and regulations for mycotoxins in food and feed have been established in many countries, including practically all European countries. An array of (formally validated) analytical methods and (certified) reference materials have become available. Several European research projects, funded by the European Commission and supported by the European Standardization Committee, have significantly contributed to this development. Quantitative methods of analysis for mycotoxins often make use of immunoaffinity cleanup with liquid chromatographic or gas chromatographic separation techniques in combination with various types of detectors, including mass spectroscopy. For screening purposes (bio)sensor-based techniques are among the promising newcomers. For the phycotoxins the situation is less advanced. Formal risk assessments by authoritative international bodies have not been carried out. Methods of analysis, formally validated according to internationally harmonized protocols, are scarce and animal testing still plays a key role in official methodology. The development of the analytical methodology is partly hampered by the limited availability of certain reliable calibrants and reference materials, although this situation is gradually improving. New regulations in the European Union have increased the pressure to develop and validate chemical methods of analysis. Joint efforts in the European context are now directed towards significantly improving this situation, and techniques such as liquid chromatography–mass spectroscopy offer promise in this respect. Both the working group on biotoxins of the European Standardization Committee and the network of National Reference Laboratories for Marine Biotoxins have taken up responsibilities here. The plant toxins are a category of natural toxins, where the situation is the least developed with respect to regulations, validated methods of analysis and reference materials. Yet, their occurrence in a wide range of consumable plant species demands the attention of the analytical community.