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New EFSA chief commits to, ‘opening up its scientific processes’

By Shane Starling+

21-Jul-2014
Last updated on 21-Jul-2014 at 15:49 GMT

“In the coming months, input from the public consultation will feed into finalisation of a new Open EFSA policy and follow-up plan.”
“In the coming months, input from the public consultation will feed into finalisation of a new Open EFSA policy and follow-up plan.”

EFSA’s new chief Dr Bernhard Url said greater transparency at the Parma-based agency can boost trust and deliver better opinions.

“EFSA [European Food Safety Authority] is committed to opening up its scientific processes to the widest possible extent and to being more understandable to its partners, stakeholders and the public at large,” Dr Url said last week.

“I believe that not only will this make EFSA more accountable and trusted, but it can also result in more comprehensive, more understandable and better focused scientific advice for decision-makers.”

From various meetings dating back to 2013, the 14-year-old agency noted it has received more than 60 suggestions to improve transparency measures. A summary of those can be found here along with a summary of how the agency seeks to achieve greater transparency, “over the coming years.”

“EFSA wants feedback particularly on these key aspects of the paper and welcomes comments from national partners, other scientific advisory bodies, civil society organisations and other stakeholders as well as experts and practitioners in the field of open government and open science.”

“In the coming months, input from the public consultation will feed into finalisation of a new Open EFSA policy and follow-up plan.”

Transparency limits

Yet the idea of total transparency is not without its opaque edges. Some scientists working on the agency’s various panels have expressed the view that having observers in meetings, for example, would inhibit the scientific debate.  

Professor Sean Strain

Professor Sean Strain of Ulster University, a Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) member, told us recently that observed meetings could inhibit panelists and raised the question of observer influence.

Scientific panels must, "be blind to the needs of the industry and be blind to the needs of the consumer - this is in the remit of the Commission."

Professor Strain added: "I would have sympathy with transparency and open meetings, but I would be totally against recording."

EFSA said examples of greater transparency included public access to documents it was working on as well as making its output, more accessible and understandable.”

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