As a means of assessing the performance of European laboratories who contribute analytical data on food contamination to the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Environmental Monitoring Scheme (GEMS), a series of five proficiency testing exercises were carried out during 1993 and 1994. In total 136 laboratories from 21 different countries took part in one or more of the exercises which covered the analysis of trace elements (lead, cadmium and mercury) in milk powder, pesticides (organochlorine, organophosphorus and pyrethroid) in spinach powder, nitrate in spinach powder, aflatoxins in nut-based animal feed and patulin in apple juices. The proficiency testing was carried out according to the ISO/IUPAC/AOAC INTERNATIONAL Harmonized Protocol and laboratories were awarded z-scores signifying their analytical capability based on their reported results for each of the respective exercises. Overall 60% of laboratories were satisfactory for accuracy for trace element analysis, 41% for pesticides, 43% for nitrate, 88% for aflatoxins and 53% for patulin. These results gave an overall poorer performance (68%) than the average for other similar schemes (79%), indicating the need for care in collating data for such programmes as GEMS and the need for remedial measures to assist in improving performance.