In an article published on April 27, 2017 by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), Martin Pigeon reported on the European Parliament’s (EP) latest comments on the independence policy of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). On the same day, the EP adopted a resolution based on its report concerning the implementation of EFSA’s 2015 budget, released on March 29, 2017. One section in this report focused on the “prevention and management of conflicts of interest and transparency” at EFSA.
In particular, the EP stressed that “experts with financial interests linked to companies whose substances are evaluated by the Authority [EFSA] shall not be allowed to sit in the Authority’s scientific panels or working groups, and that no such experts should be appointed by the Authority before two years after his/her interests have expired.” Further, the EP called on EFSA to “incorporate into its new independence policy a two-year cooling-off period for all material interests related to the companies whose products are assessed by the Authority and to any organizations funded by them.” The EP also noted with regret that EFSA “has not included research funding in the list of interests to be covered.”
Pigeon noted that the EP “has been repeating [the request for a comprehensive cooling-off period] annually since 2014,” and that its adoption by EFSA could “close the existing loopholes” and “prevent most future conflict of interest cases.” However, so far EFSA insisted on assessing experts’ interests not as a whole but only according to the specific mandate of a particular panel they want to join or are a member of. EFSA justified this limitation with the claim that a comprehensive cooling-off period as requested by the EP could “obstruct the ‘availability of expertise’ necessary to ‘accomplish EFSA’s duties.’”
The EP further emphasized that EFSA, while indeed requesting and assessing the declarations of interest submitted by its experts, at the same time does not apply its “policy on prevention and management of conflicts of interest . . . to its interim staff.” In this regard, the EP insisted “that the Authority implement its independence policy consistently, and in particular for panel chairs and vice-chairs.” The EP also called on EFSA to “publish . . . the outcome of its evaluations of experts’ interests.” In conclusion, the EP reminded EFSA “that scientific rigor is ensured best by transparency and accountability of results.”
EFSA’s independence policy was adopted in 2011, updated in 2014, and is currently being revised, with the new policy draft scheduled for adoption in 2017 following a public consultation period (FPF reported).
Martin Pigeon (April 27, 2017). “EU Parliament urges Food Safety Authority to finally cut industry ties.” CEO
David Burrows (May 4, 2017). “Analysis: Can EFSA ever cut ties with industry?” Food Navigator
EFSA (December 15, 2011). “Policy on independence and scientific decision-making processes of the European Food Safety Authority.” Executive Summary (pdf)
EFSA (December 2, 2014). “Decision of the executive director of the European Food Safety Authority on declarations of interest.” (pdf)