The European research project DIFFERENCE is focussed on the development, optimisation and validation of screening methods for dioxin analysis, including bio-analytical and chemical techniques (CALUX, GC-LRMS/MS, GC x GC-ECD) and on the optimisation and validation of new extraction and clean-up procedures. The performance of these techniques is assessed in an international validation study and the results are compared with the reference technique GC-HRMS. This study is set up in three rounds and is in accordance with the International Harmonized Protocol for Proficiency Studies and the ISO 5725 standard. The results of the first two rounds are very promising in particular for GC-LRMS/MS. The results obtained with this technique were as accurate as the results reported by the labs using the GC-HRMS. The initial results reported for GC x GC-ECD overestimate the dioxin concentration in the samples. The results reported by the labs using the CALUX technique underestimate the total TEQ concentrations in the samples, compared to the GC-HRMS reference method. The repeatability of the CALUX is significantly higher than the other screening techniques. It was shown that accelerated solvent extraction (ASE) is a valid alternative extraction and clean-up procedure for fish oil and vegetable oil. The results obtained with CALUX and GC-HRMS after ASE are equivalent to the results obtained with the classical extraction and purification procedures. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.