By Corporate Europe Observatory
Key Points of Investigation: 122 experts out of 209 have at least one conflict of interest with the commercial sector. The EFSA’s panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) has 17 of its 20 members with 113 conflicts of interest between them. One member of the panel on Additives and Products or Substances used in Animal Feed (FEEDAP) has 24 on his own.
Having a conflict of interest with the commercial sector does not mean that an expert is criticised for his/her ethics or intellectual honesty, but that he/she cannot be considered independent from industry’s influence. Therefore, we think, the expert is not in a position to participate in the work of an agency whose workload consists primarily in assessing the safety of industrial products to be commercialised on the EU market.
One of the most important though least known institutions in the EU, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is, according to its motto, “committed to ensuring that Europe’s food is safe”. Everyone eating food in Europe is affected by its decisions.
Following controversy over its close ties with industry, the agency has implemented a new policy designed to ensure the independence of its scientific panels. Yet serious conflicts of interest remain. Over half of the 209 scientists sitting on the agency’s panels have direct or indirect ties with the industries they are meant to regulate. A much clearer and stricter independence policy needs to be set up and rigorously implemented to restore the Authority’s reputation and integrity.
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In recent years, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has come under sustained criticism from the European Parliament, NGOs and the media over conflicts of interest of those sitting on its scientific panels. These experts play a crucial role in decisions key to the health and safety of Europe’s food supply chain. Yet some were shown to have commercial ties with the industries whose profits depend on these products, undermining the credibility of the organisation’s scientific output on issues such as food additives1 and GMOs.2
After an initial phase of denying there was a problem, EFSA has developed – in its own words – “a new, comprehensive and sophisticated” policy on independence.3 The renewal of eight of its ten scientific panels in the course of Spring 2012 was the opportunity for the agency to start implementing its new policy to vet the participants for conflicts of interest – and regain credibility…