Service Communautaire d'Information sur la Recherche et le Développement - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - BIODET (Networking in the application of biosensors to pesticide detection in fruits and vegetables)

Publishable final activity report

Fresh fruit and vegetables may be harmful due to the presence of pesticide wastes, whose ingestion is the source of a number of diseases (Pesticide Action Network United Kingdom, Briefing 3, December 2005). Consequently, European countries have defined the Maximum residue limits (MRLs) permitted for a wide range of pesticide-product combinations. Additionally, Regulation (EC) 396/2005 has established the need to harmonise European Community provisions concerning MRLs in / on food and feed of plant origin.

So far, agro-food SMEs have outsourced MRL controls, which has proved to be a time and money consuming process. Biosensor-based systems represent an alternative to perform those quantitative measurements of pesticides in a fast, automatic, cost-effective manner.

The overall objective of BIODET was to stimulate the introduction of biosensors as devices for the analysis of pesticides in the agro-food industry (at administrations, agro-food traders and machinery manufacturers). At the end of the project, BIODET would establish the basis to assemble and disseminate future strategies among agro-food business' key stakeholders (industry, public authorities, academia, the financial community, consumers and / or end-users).

This objective aligned with that of the Thematic Priority 5 (Food Quality and Safety): to support research in order to improve the health and well being of European citizens through a higher quality of their food and an improved control of food production and of related environmental factors. This approach re-addressed the classical 'farm-to-fork' approach by giving priority to consumers' demands and rights for high quality and safe food. (Work Programme 2005, Priority 5: Food Safety and Quality).

That objective included other more specific objectives, which are listed below:

1. To contribute to improve the health and well being of European citizens through a higher quality of their food
Problem: pesticide contaminated food is the source of many diseases. The problem is not only a health but also an economic problem and of particular concern in countries that do not have very high food safety standards.
Solution: biosensors allow quick measuring of pesticide levels. Thus, agrofood companies can increase the number of daily controls in order to check whether pesticide wastes in / on their products are below established MRLs and, consequently, their consume does not imply any health risk for human.

2. To contribute to improve the controls of food production
Problem: EC Guideline 62/2003 establishes the sampling methods for the official control of pesticide wastes in products of vegetable (and animal) origin. Frequency of analysis derived from this guideline (and its cost) can be excessive for the companies to continuously control their production.
Solution: introduction of chemical / biosensor-based systems in agro-food business companies (producers, distributors) will allow increasing frequency of controls, since they will decrease both monetary and temporary costs.

3. To contribute to protect the environment
Problem: many studies worldwide have shown how pesticides break down in water, soil, and light; how easily they evaporate in air; and how quickly they travel through soil. Moreover, many other studies have assessed the effects of pesticide exposure to plants and animals, which broadly represent non-target organisms.
Solution: as biosensors allow monitoring pesticide levels more frequently, they can help fruit and vegetable producers become more cautious and strict about their application. Consequently, the overall use of these chemicals should decrease and so leakage into soil and water. Moreover, functionality of biosensors might also be extended to the analysis of pesticides in other food products, water supplies and environmental samples.

In order to fulfil all these objectives, BIODET established the following work plan:
The objective of the first period of the project was to compile information about biosensors. For this purpose, a preliminary work was done to define the most critical pesticide-commodity combinations. Subsequently and based on this list, an exhaustive search was conducted in 10 countries for availability and properties of biosensors including their application methods to analyse pesticide residues in / on fruit and vegetable. The information was examined from three different points of view:
- state of the art on the technology
- manufacturers and validated systems
- regulations on MRLs and analysis methods at national / European level.

When all that information had been gathered, the project entered the second period. The objective of this period was to establish a strategy to stimulate the introduction of biosensors for pesticides in the agro-food industry. For this purpose, some events were organised to interact with the industry. These events involved:
- an international meeting in Brussels with experts in different areas (legislation, R&D in biosensors, manufacture of biosensors, manufacture of agro-food machinery and production / distribution of commodities) to analyse market penetration and to define main characteristics of biosensors so as to obtain successful integration in industry.
- two workshops organised in Olten (Switzerland) and Santarém (Portugal) with representatives of industries (fruit and vegetable, instrumentation and equipment, phytosanitary products) to discuss about the conclusions drawn from the previous meetings and searches.

The objective of the third period was to disseminate the activities, results, events, etc. of the project. These activities, which actually started the first day of the project, involved, among others:
- the creation and updating of a website and a database;
- the production and distribution of two leaflets and a CD-ROM;
- the participation in international events to promote the project;
- the organisation of two workshops with stakeholders in Valencia (Spain) and Brno (Czech Republic).

At the end of the second period, it was carried out an in-depth analysis of the information compiled from different angles throughout the project. The objective of this situation analysis was to answer the following questions:

1. Customer needs assessment and market research process:
a. Is there a market need for biosensors?
i. For controlling food purity with food processors.
ii. As pesticide management tool for growers.
iii. Are there other applications such as control of mycotoxins, allergens and vitamins?
iv. Are there other markets e.g. markets outside Europe?

2. Regulatory requirements:
a. For measuring pesticide residues with biosensors.
b. For certification of biosensors to be released into the European markets and outside markets.

3. Product design and production process:
a. Do we have the right technology / products / services to satisfy the market needs?
i. What technologies are used today?
ii. What radical new research ideas are in the pipeline?
iii. Where do we stand with biosensors development?
iv. Quality management.

4. What resources are required to build a biosensor industry?
a. Are there enough protagonists to participate in building such an industry?
b. Who will finance the evolution of a biosensor industry?
c. How to bridge the 'death valley' in product development?
d. Positioning biosensors in the market;
e. Specifications for the ideal biosensor;
f. Which venture capitalist or business angels will support the emergence of a biosensor industry?
g. Network organisations.

On the basis of the conclusions of the situation analysis, it was built a five-action strategy to exploit the agro-food biosensor potential in Europe.
1. To submit to the EC new R&D projects for funding applied research, development and production of products adapted to the end users' actual needs. Moreover, we also propose basic research leading to better understanding of metrology in biosensor technology.
2. To establish and to manage a pan-European collaborative network for the advancement of an agro-food biosensors industry comprising researchers, developers, manufacturers, certification authorities, sales / marketing specialists and entrepreneurs.
3. To remove regulatory obstacles that hinder evolution of an agro-food biosensors industry.
4. To foster production of suitably certified agro-food biosensors and standard development.
5. To alert private equity market to the opportunities of a growing agro-food biosensor industry.

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