The reference laboratories develop and validate official testing methods for the pathogens or contaminants for which they have been appointed and make them available to the laboratories that are to be accredited.
What do we mean by reference?
For certain major regulated or emerging pathogens (viruses, bacteria, parasites) and chemical contaminants, the health authorities need an effective surveillance system based on a network of reliable laboratories to undertake official analyses. For each regulated pathogen or contaminant requiring surveillance, the health authorities appoint accredited analytical laboratories and a ‘reference’ laboratory. The reference laboratory ensures the reliability of the analyses undertaken by the accredited laboratories. Its mandate may be national (National Reference Laboratory [NRL], in which case it oversees a network of departmental laboratories), European (EURL, in which case it manages a network of NRLs) or international (WHO, OIE or FAO collaborating centre). Depending on the pathogen or contaminant under surveillance and the targeted agent’s level of circulation, the number of accredited laboratories to be supervised may range from just a few to about a hundred.