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The European Food Safety Authority’s Independence Problem

More than half of experts at the EU food safety authority have conflicts of interest

The European Food Safety Authority's independence problem
European Food Safety Authority says it’s “Committed to ensuring that Europe’s food is safe”

Almost 60% of experts sitting on the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) panels have direct or indirect links with industries regulated by the agency, according to an independent screening performed by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) – an advocacy group that criticizes corporate influence on public policy – and Stéphane Horel – freelance journalist and documentarian.

The CEO October 2013 report identifies major loopholes in EFSA’s independence policy and finds that EFSA’s new rules for assessing its experts, implemented in 2012 after several conflicts of interest scandals, have failed to improve the situation.

The authors warn that this situation casts a severe doubt on the credibility of the scientific output of the key body responsible for food safety at the EU, with the agency issuing recommendations and risk assessments on crucial public health issues such as food additives, packaging, GMOs, contaminants and pesticides.

The main loophole identified in EFSA’s new rules for assessing its experts’ interests is that the agency’s assessment is too narrow, mainly looking at the panel’s specific remit to determine whether there are conflicts of interest. Instead it should consider experts’ wider conflicts of interest, in line with the agency’s broader mandate to guarantee its decisions remain independent from the industry it regulates. The current approach enables dozens of experts with multiple commercial interests (consultancy contracts, research funding, etc) to still be granted full membership of EFSA panels, including a majority of panel chairs and vice-chairs.

The CEO report also shows that EFSA failed to properly implement its own new rules in several instances, and that there is no visible difference between panels assembled under the new policy and those composed using the old policy.