By Juanjuan SUN
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was established in 2002 according to the General Food Law (Regulation 178/2002, Article 22), with the purpose of providing scientific advice for the legislation and policy regarding food and feed safety. Having drawn the lessons from the BSE crisis in which political and economic considerations had biased the scientific independence, one of the distinctive arrangements through this independent scientific agency is to separate the risk assessment and risk management from the perspective of function, organization and responsibility. In the location of its 10th anniversary, the retrospect of its achievements as well as existing questions may serve as a chance to illustrate the role of science in the guarantee of food safety.
With a key task in the area of risk assessment, EFSA’s activities involve reviewing scientific data and studies to evaluate risks associated with certain hazards. In this aspect, the efforts of EFSA are to establish a scientific network to ensure the cooperation of scientific work while keeping independence to improve the scientific credibility. As regards to the cooperation, the Advisory Forum functions as a mechanism for an exchange of information on potential risks and the pooling of knowledge, which allows this agency to carry out close cooperation with national food safety authorities. Besides, EFSA has also established a Stakeholder Consultative Platform since 2005 under which EFSA can maintain a constant dialogue and exchanges with EU wide stakeholders. When it comes to independence, EFSA has adopted a policy on independence and scientific decision-making processes, which describes all the steps that have been taken by EFSA to ensure the implementation of its core values in scientific outputs and decision-making process. Among others, the Declaration of Interest plays an essential role to prevent the scientific experts, management and staff from economic influences. For example, the scientific experts are required to make annual Declarations listing all relevant interests arising from employment, fees, etc., as well as specific Declarations of Interests for each meeting and mandate. Since its establishment, the advice that EFSA provides to risk managers underpins many of the laws and regulations concerning food borne diseases, contaminations, animal health and welfare, plant protection, food production and distribution, food sector innovation, to name a few. For example, as far as food safety is concerned, EFSA has evaluated thousands of flavorings used in foods and scheduled to complete the re-evaluation by 2020 of all food additives authorized in the EU prior to 2009.
However, the independence of the scientific work carried out by EFSA is still under question, especially against the conflicts with regard to genetically modified organisms, as in the high-profile case of Séralini’s study. In view of its own good risk assessment practices and methodologies which is provided to guide the work of its Scientific Committee, EFSA’s Scientific Panels have denied the outwork of Séralini’s research under the ground of serious defects in the designs and methodology.
In addition to the question against the consensus of scientific research work, there have been criticism regarding the reliance between EFSA and industries under which the former makes use of the latter’s studies and data to form its scientific advice to the EU institutions. In view of this, whether EFSA is ready for tomorrow’s challenges or not, the assurance of independence is still a great challenge for its credibility.