Tuesday

26th Oct 2021

No conflict of interest at EU food agency, director says

  • Efsa relies on industry experts to make assessments (Photo: Flickr.com)

The head of the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), Bernhard Url, has rebuffed allegations that his staff is too close to industry.

Speaking to MEPs in the budgetary control committee on Monday (20 January), he said he does not employ anybody from the food sector.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

“People that are employed with industry are completely excluded from all the workthat Efsa does, so there is no possibility that people who are employed in the industry would ever be in a working group or a panel with Efsa,” he noted.

The agency, based in Parma, Italy, was set up in 2002 to assess food chain risks.

It relies on some 1,500 unpaid external experts from around the Europe to do its work.

The MEPs grilled Url as part of the EU’s regular budgetary oversight procedure.

Efsa has had several run-ins with pro-transparency campaigners and with the European Court of Auditors, the EU’s financial watchdog.

The court in 2012 said two experts were providing consultancy work to a private organisation, while simultaneously issuing Efsa expertise on the same subject.

“[But] in both cases, Efsa concluded that there was no conflict of interest,” the auditors noted.

More recently, in December, the Brussels-based NGO, the Corporate Europe Observatory (COE), wrote to Url saying that another expert on one of his panels is being financed by agrochemicals producers and works as a lobbyist in Brussels.

The expert sits on Efsa’s pesticide panel.

But he also directs the Opera Research Center in Italy, which has a branch office in Brussels run by five people.

Opera is said to have lobbied EU lawmakers on issues like EU-wide farm subsidies and the impact of pesticides on bees.

COE says Opera’s scientific committee includes representatives from top agri-frims, such as the Swiss-based Syngenta, which makes “neonicotinoid” pesticides - banned by the European Commission last May.

In a written response sent to the EU parliament committee, Efsa said it is crucial to seek out the best scientists to help it carry out its risk assessments.

It added that industry experts on its panels work on issues “outside the scope” of the panels’ remit “and hence do not constitute a conflict of interest.”

“Efsa is taking this question of independence of the scientific expertise extremely seriously,” Url added.

He said the agency evaluated some 7,000 annual declarations of interest in 2012, which were crosschecked with around 33,000 meeting agenda items.

Monday’s hearing was part of the EU parliament’s preliminary scrutiny of 31 EU agencies.

The committee is set to vote on its reports on their work in March. A plenary vote is scheduled for April.

EU to ban bee-killing pesticides

The European Commission will push ahead with its original plan to place a two-year ban on pesticides thought to kill bees.

EU agencies defend research ahead of glyphosate vote

As the renewal of the weedkiller glyphosate is a hot potato on the EU agenda, with a vote in the Parliament on Thursday, the role of two closely-involved EU agencies has come under scrutiny.

Catalan MEPs lose immunity, slam 'political persecution'

Catalan separatist MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí lost their parliamentary immunity - a result they have hailed as a "political victory" for bringing the conflict between Catalonia and Spain closer to the heart of Europe.

12-month Future EU Conference is 'impossible', expert warns

The debate about the much-delayed Conference on the Future of Europe so far has been locked in endless institutional infighting over who should lead the event - lowering the expectations about what can be achieved in the coming months.

Future of Europe: Nearly half of citizens want reforms

European Parliament president David Sassoli called for the Conference on the Future of Europe "to start as soon as possible". Meanwhile, nearly half of EU citizens would like to see reforms to the bloc.

MEPs chide Portugal and Council in EU prosecutor dispute

The Belgian and Bulgarian prosecutors who were appointed had also not been the experts' first choice. Belgian prosecutor Jean-Michel Verelst has challenged the council's decision at the European Court of Justice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. How to break the political deadlock on migration
  2. Hedegaard on the hazards of stalling climate action
  3. Belarus exiles in EU fear regime-linked murderers
  4. No place for Polish 'war' rhetoric, Commission says
  5. Nine countries oppose EU gas market reform
  6. EU-UK impasse on top court in post-Brexit customs talks
  7. Erdoğan orders out US and EU ambassadors
  8. EU banks play 'major role' in deforestation, report finds

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us