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Conflicts on the menu - new report
Corporate Europe Observatory and Earth Open Source
Press release: 14 February 2012
Brussels – The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) comes under attack in a new report published today by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and Earth Open Source (EOS), showing that it relies on industry data and industry-linked experts to assess food safety, raising serious questions about the independence of its advice.
The report comes as EFSA, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is under scrutiny from the European Court of Auditors, MEPs, and is undergoing an official evaluation by the European Commission.
Nina Holland from Corporate Europe Observatory said:
"Our investigation shows that industry interests have infiltrated the very heart of EFSA. The frequent conflicts of interest on management and advisory panels and the strong reliance on industry studies undermine EFSA's ability to act in the public interest when it comes to food safety. EFSA's operations need to be completely overhauled."
Industry-linked figures sit on a number of EFSA's advisory panels and the report argues this raises fundamental conflicts of interest in the way the EU agency assesses data. In particular, EFSA's experts are shown to have systematic links with industry lobby group ILSI (International Life Sciences Institute), funded by major biotech and food corporations.
The report reveals how members of EFSA's panels, including the food packaging panel, have failed to include links to ILSI in their Declaration of Interests, in breach of EFSA's own rules. EFSA has previously failed to take action.
EFSA's safety advice has been questioned on a number of occasions, with suggestions that products such as the sweetener aspartame, the weedkiller glyphosate, and the bisphenol A chemical used in plastics were given the green light, despite concerns raised by independent scientific studies.
Concerns have also been raised about the way in which EFSA gave the approval for the Amflora genetically modified potato.
The report calls for stronger selection criteria for experts that would ban conflicts of interest with industry and for an urgent overhaul of the EU laws that dictate how EFSA operates, including the use of industry data for safety tests. Too often independent scientists are not even able to challenge industry tests because the substance is considered commercially confidential information.
Claire Robinson from Earth Open Source added:
"EFSA's reliance on industry studies and dismissal of independent research could place public health at risk. This year EFSA gave in to a request from Monsanto to raise the residue limit for glyphosate in lentils a massive 100-150-fold. That's nearly six times the safe the safe daily dose established by independent studies, which EFSA ignored."
The European Commission is scheduled to review EFSA's founding regulation in 2012 and the European Court of Auditors is expected to publish its investigation into conflicts of interest at EFSA and other EU agencies.
 Conflicts on the menu – a decade of industry influence at the European Food Safety Authority, Corporate Europe Observatory and Earth Open Source, February 2012. See : http://www.corporateeurope.org/publications/conflicts-menu
Key points from the report:
- EFSA adopted concepts generated by industry-funded lobby group ILSI that have weakened safety assessments for chemicals and genetically modified crops
- EFSA largely bases its assessments of risky products on Å’industry science‚ that is often neither peer-reviewed nor published
- EFSA ignores or dismisses independent scientific findings of harm from products and substances it assesses
- EFSA undermined a democratically established law that insisted it take on board the findings of independent science in its risk assessments
- EFSA ignored the warnings of independent science on the food packaging chemical bisphenol A, the sweetener aspartame, and the weedkiller glyphosate (the main ingredient of Roundup)
- EFSA gave in to a request from Monsanto to raise the residue limit for glyphosate in lentils 100-150-fold, to a level nearly six times the safe level established by independent scientific studies
- EFSA has frequently relied on industry science, not independent science, to set safe levels‚ for risky substances
- EFSA is dangerously under-equipped to deal with an ever-increasing workload
- EFSA experts are not paid but are volunteers who have to go through vast amounts of industry data in their spare time
- EFSA does not verify declarations of interest. When interests are found that have not been declared, EFSA does not intervene. New examples relate to the food packaging panel.
- The EU is about to incorporate into official EU regulation the discredited 'comparative assessment' method of GMO safety assessment that was originated by ILSI insider and EFSA GMO Panel head Harry Kuiper. A stakeholder meeting on this topic will be held in Brussels on Tuesday 14 February. This shows how the EU and EFSA work in tandem to let industry make the rules
- The European Court of Auditors‚ report on EFSA is expected to come out in March
- The European Commission is planning to revise EFSA‚s founding regulation in the second half of this year and in preparation has started an official evaluation of EFSA
- Eight out of 10 EFSA panels are up for renewal. Decisions will be taken at next management board meeting in mid-March. On 5 March, EFSA will publish its new implementing rules on conflicts of interest, but not much new is expected.
- MEPs will discuss EFSA again on 24 March (budget committee).
A three-minute animation clip produced by Corporate Europe Observatory highlights problems at EFSA: