Saturday

3rd Dec 2016

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

“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.

MEP barred from questioning Oettinger on plane trip

The Hungarian Green MEP who uncovered EU Commissioner Oettinger's flight to Budapest on a private plane of a lobbyist was not allowed to ask the German politician on the issue in the EP.

Column / Rem@rk@ble

Juncker’s time is running out

EU Commission chief's defensive media blitz reinforces the very thing he wants to deny: It’s time to leave.

News in Brief

  1. Talks on wholesale roaming rules to start
  2. Lead MEP Dieselgate committee: Italy and Slovakia will cooperate
  3. Transparency NGO sues EU commission on Turkey deal
  4. Pro-EU liberal wins UK by-election
  5. Finnish support for Nato drops, Russia-scepticism grows
  6. Cyprus talks to resume in January
  7. Documents from German NSA inquiry released
  8. Transport commissioner 'not aware' of legal action on emissions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Gaming & Betting AssociationContinues to Grow its Membership and Welcomes its Newest Member Association
  2. ACCASupports the Women of Europe Awards, Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  3. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  4. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  5. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  6. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  7. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  8. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Trasport and Mobility in Rome
  9. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  10. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)
  11. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security
  12. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World