EU citizens want more transparent food safety studies

EU, 13 December 2018 - The EU is making it easier for citizens to have access to scientific studies underpinning decisions in the field of food safety on issues such as pesticides
calendar icon 13 December 2018
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Not only will there be greater transparency, quality and independence of the studies, but the governance and scientific performance of EFSA, the European food safety authority, will also be improved so that it can better service the European institutions and the EU as a whole.

European ambassadors meeting in the Committee of Permanent representatives (Coreper) today agreed the Council position, the so-called 'general approach', on the regulation on the transparency and sustainability of the EU risk assessment in the food chain.

"The concerns of citizens about the safety of the food we eat have not gone unheard. Our objective is to grant people greater access to scientific studies while at the same time strengthening the scientific base of risk management. I believe we have struck a balance between transparency and protection of innovation in the European agro-food industry," said Elisabeth Köstinger, Austrian Federal Minister for Sustainability and Tourism and President of the Council.

The predecessor of the current framework in the field is the so-called General Food Law regulation that, back in 2002, introduced the risk analysis principle to the EU food law and established the EFSA as a separate body in charge of risk assessment in the food chain, while the European institutions remained in charge of risk management.

Following public controversies and concerns linked to glyphosate, genetically modified organisms and endocrine disrputors, the Commission proposed in April 2018 to review the General Food Law and amend eight legislative acts dealing with specific food chain sectors: GMOs, feed additives, smoke flavourings, food contact materials, food additives, food enzymes and flavourings, plant protection products and novel foods.

The Council position remains close to the spirit of the Commission's proposal but it improves the basic text so as to increase the clarity of legal requirements for industry and public authorities.

In order to guarantee more transparency about scientific studies, all supporting data and information linked to an application for authorisation will be made public by the EFSA after the assessment of the validity of the application, unless the applicant requested confidential treatment for this information. The applicant bears the burden of proving that the disclosure of the information would significantly harm its interest.

EFSA will have to consider the validity of this confidentiality request and communicate the results of its enquiry to the applicant. If the applicant disagrees with EFSA's results, it can file a confirmatory request. In order to safeguard the interests of businesses, in the period during which the confirmatory request is assessed, the information cannot be made public.

Thanks to the Council general approach, all potential applicants will be obliged to notify the studies they commission or carry out to support future applications. Moreover, as in the original Commission proposal, the Commission will be able to request EFSA to commission its own verification studies in exceptional circumstances.

In order for EFSA to be able to attract more and better scientists to participate in Scientific Panels, member states will have a more active role in promoting the calls of expression on interest coming from EFSA and encouraging national experts to apply for Scientific Panels. As it is the case today, it will be the responsibility of EFSA to draw up lists of experts to be appointed by the management board.

Risk communication by the Commission and EFSA towards member states and public stakeholders will be improved to ensure a more coherent, transparent and continuous flow of information throughout the risk assessment process.

The Council general approach does not include any decision concerning the budget of EFSA which, as any MFF-related question, will depend on the outcome of the horizontal negotiations on the future Multilateral Financial Framework.

Next steps

The general approach will be formally adopted by the Council at its Agriculture and Fisheries session on 17 December.

Following today's agreement, the Council is ready to start negotiations with the European Parliament as soon as the latter has agreed its stance.

A qualified majority is needed for adoption by the Council, in agreement with the European Parliament.

Ryan Johnson

Editor at The Poultry Site

Ryan worked in conservation from 2008 to 2017, during which time he operated a rainbow trout hatchery and helped to maintain public and protected green spaces in Canada for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. As editor of The Poultry Site, he now writes about challenges and opportunities in agriculture across the globe.

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