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Fytolab concentrates on going intenational

Importance of quick analysis increases

The roots of Fytolab originated in the seventies within the union branch Gewasbescherming (plant protection) of Gent University. The focus on protection means residue analysis started an independent private laboratory on 1 July 2000. Carine de Clercq, general manager of Fytolab, tells about the developments of the last few years.

"From the fruit and vegetable sector the demand came for a laboratory to analyse the residue of protection means. Therefore, we came to be the stimulus of the sector. About 60% of our samples are fruit and vegetables and in addition we also serve other large groups. Many orders in fruit and vegetables we handle are for Belgian auction houses. Belgium is known for its pre-harvest control system of leafy vegetables. This is a pre-harvest control at the grower, therefore before harvesting. In this way he knows whether to start harvesting after receipt of the result. At the end of the nineties from Germany came the complaint that the Belgian lettuce contained too many residues. Therefore the auction house devised and started this system. This preventative system has finally become law in Belgium, which supports the vegetable sector, because quite a lot of Belgian lettuce goes to Germany."


"An important development during the last years is definitely the technology. When we started as Fytolab we had small methods with 10 or 20 protection means and these we analysed up to 0.5 or 0.1 ppm (parts per million). To-day we have extensive methods, multi-residue methods, in which many hundreds of means are contained and the boundary often goes to 0.01 ppm. The technology has made it possible to research more and more and deeper. This last category is most important because of the lower environment tax and toxicity."

What is the profit to the client?
"It is a fact that we can measure lower all the time. 0.01 ppm may be compared to a crossbar of 40 cm on the circumference of the globe. We look for and find that we can already do quite a lot at the moment and that will be developed further. Nevertheless we have to ask ourselves, whether it is sensible to go further than is asked for by law? I sometimes get annoyed with laboratories, which say we measure everything at 0.001 ppm. This is really exaggerated, because it does not help the client. Who benefits from this and are we still busy with food safety and good agrarian practice? With this I therefore wish to limit ourselves as laboratories to 0.01 ppm. This with the exception of the lower specific legal requirements of for instance baby food. As a laboratory we are part of ring testing and we check our quality and performance amongst each other. We analyse then up to 0.01 ppm and only 50% of the laboratories are successful. The conclusion is then: should we not all be measuring up to 0.01 ppm, well before there are people who claim that they can go a lot lower."

To distinguish

Fytolab has distinguished itself because of operational excellence. Reliability in all departments is central in this: reliable in results, speed and reliable support. Quality only becomes noticeable to clients in the long run. Speed is an important factor. When we started analysing, results were only available after 5 to 10 days. Pre-harvest controls were already quicker. That took two days. Now we even have a speed-service of 8 hours. In addition we still have an important stream of patterns, which are dealt with between 24 and 36 hours. Very often there are emergencies in the 8 hour service. Therefore these samples are dealt with in a separate system. The importance of speed increases in the fruit and vegetable sector. More and more companies work with positive release. This means that one waits for the results of the analysis before a product is marketed or processed. It is essential that everything is done with the same quality and reliability. No harm should ever be done to either of these. Speedy service is also important for import products and perishable goods such as strawberries."

Residue checks pesticides
"In addition to analysis of protection means Fytolab also handles more controls of mycotoxins. These are toxins produced by certain fungi and are often found in coffee, meat and grain. Therefore the fruit and vegetable sector is not as important. As a specialized residue laboratory Fytolab has already since its start noticed a positive trend in connection with residues, namely the percentages have clearly decreased. Few problems are apparent with West European products. European studies show that most excesses come from import products from outside Europe. In Europe there is the MRL-legislation, which shows the limit for good agrarian practice. The legislation and the application of the good agrarian practice and the controls on these are still missing in many countries. Fytolab has two laboratories abroad, namely in Bulgaria and in Colombia. And this allows us to see how things go in countries like these."

Carine mentions that their field as a laboratory gets bigger all the time. "Every year something new appears. At the start of this year we had the nicotine crisis with the mushrooms and this summer the perchlorate matter with vegetables. But residue analysis takes place in a riper market all the time." Of course products have to be controlled, but if we want to grow we must also direct ourselves towards other countries. Trading is becoming more worldwide all the time. Nobody knows where a product comes from. Therefore a wide scope finding means whichever are allowed, are required at he other side of the world. In order to assist our clients fully we will start next year with a completely new method: the high resolution LCMS. This method supports exporters as well, who are involved in other legislation outside Europe."

"Residue analysis will still remain important for a long period. Consumers still regard protection means residues as high risk. Nevertheless it is clear that the 'laboratory market is consolidating. Laboratories either are taken over or merge. It is a challenge not to be dragged along by the general pressure on price, because with many the result is that the quality deteriorates. Reliability and quality remain central with us. Also being international is an important pillar. In France and the Netherlands we are already rather active, but we will still strengthen this in the future. We will also in addition to Bulgaria and Colombia open other branches. I also expect the demand for mycotoxine analysis to increase."

"Today it is a challenge for a laboratory to be quick and to retain the quality. All this at a cost efficient price. Our mission is to strengthen the activities of our clients and for our clients it is important that our name and good reputation do not stop at the borders. The quality is to be at the same level in all Fytolab laboratories and today I can guarantee this" Carine de Clercq concludes.

For more information:
Carine De Clercq
Fytolab cvba
2/3, Technologiepark
B-9052 Zwijnaarde - Belgium
[email protected]

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