The European Commission has opened a comment period as part of plans to change the current set-up and establish EU reference laboratories (EURLs) in public health.

The call for applications covers three EURLs. The first is an EURL for food and waterborne bacteria; the second is for food, water, and vector-borne helminths and protozoa; and the third is for food and waterborne viruses.

EURLs will support national reference laboratories and promote good practice and alignment by member states on diagnostics, testing methods, and the use of specific tests for the surveillance, notification, and reporting diseases. Other duties include external quality assessments, scientific advice, technical assistance, and training.

Three labs in revised set-up
The network of EURLs for public health will be coordinated by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The foodborne and waterborne bacteria EURL will support members of the laboratory sub-network of ECDC’s European Food- and Waterborne Diseases and Zoonoses Network (FWD-Net). Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter, Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia are pathogens covered.

The food, water, vector-borne helminths, and protozoa EURL include Echinococcus, Toxoplasma gondii, Trichinella, and Plasmodium. Input on other parasites, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, and Taenia solium, may also be requested. In the case of a multi-country outbreak, the EURL will be asked to provide information, guidance, and support to ECDC on microbiology-related matters.

For the food and waterborne viruses, EURL, hepatitis A, and hepatitis E are the two main agents. If there is an EU-level need with public health relevance, this EURL may be asked for advice.

Labs in EU member states and European Economic Area (EEA) countries have until Aug. 14 to apply. Results will be announced in September. A webinar for interested labs will be held in mid-May.

Current situation
The current EURL for Salmonella is the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM); for Campylobacter, it is the Swedish Veterinary Agency, and the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) holds the role for Listeria.

The Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) in Italy is the EURL for parasites and E. coli. Livsmedelsverket (the Swedish Food Agency) is EURL for foodborne viruses. 

EURLs in six areas of public health, including antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in bacteria and high-risk, emerging, and zoonotic bacterial pathogens, have already been chosen after a call in 2023.

Statens Serum Institut (SSI) in Denmark will lead the EURL for public health on AMR in bacteria, however work will not include Salmonella and Campylobacter, and Germany’s Robert Koch-Institut (RKI) heads-up the consortium on bacterial pathogens, such as anthrax, brucellosis, leptospirosis, Q fever, rickettsiosis, and tularaemia. The EURLs apply until March 26, 2031.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)