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EFSA: how to secure its independence?
by Editor (comments: 0)
Testbiotech criticises in a recent press release the newly drafted policy on the independence of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The institute is calling for substantial improvements: in the newly drafted policy the EFSA should give priority to gaining more independence specifically in regard to the influence from agrifood industries. Testbiotech demands that the EFSA should take specific measures to avoid being influenced by these industries. It sees the EFSA as saying that all interests are to be treated equally and impartially. In contrast, Testbiotech demands that the EFSA gives preference to the interests of the general public and, more particularly, the protection of health and the environment,
Conflicts of interest
Christoph Then from Testbiotech says they expect the EFSA to do its job of applying high standards to scientific expertise and clearly defining the real risks and uncertainties. To do so there must be thorough scrutiny of the selection of experts, which is needed in order to counter the predominant influence of the agrifood sector. In his opinion, the industry is currently treating science as a service fuelling their interests. Thus the authority, which was established to protect health and the environment, needs to rebalance the system.
Testbiotech gives examples of serious weaknesses in the draft, such as the possibility of experts working for the EFSA and still getting access to research funding from industry – anything up to 25 percent of their overall research budget. So they criticise the EFSA criteria for assessing potential conflicts of interest as being far too narrow and not taking into account the full range of EFSA activities.
The issue of a cooling-off period is seen as inadequate. For example, in the past, organisations such as the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which is financed by industry, were found to have a serious impact on the work of the EFSA. Nevertheless, in the new draft policy it appears that even in future experts who were actively engaged in ILSI working groups for many years can have unimpeded access to EFSA via the revolving doors.
Testbiotech is also very critical of the fact that EFSA is willing to accept any expert nominated by a member state. Currently, there are no harmonised standards for protecting the independence of national authorities.
Crucial parts of the newly drafted EFSA policy are contrary to demands made by the EU Parliament that have recently been adopted by its budget committee. These demands include requesting a cooling-off period from all material interests related to the commercial agrifood sector.