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EFSA Management Board re-elects Chair, rejects conflict of interest

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 25-Oct-2010

Related topics: Policy

The new Management Board of the European Food Safety Authority held its first meeting late last week, re-electing Diána Bánáti as Chair – and restated its rejection of conflict of interest claims against her.

The European Commission, the European Parliament and Member States rely on the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to provide an independent and transparent risk assessment process, as a basis for making informed risk management decisions. But late last month Green MEP José Bové called for Bánáti’s resignation after he objected that she was a member of the board for the International Life Science Institute, a public health non-profit organisation whose membership includes academic, government and industry scientists.

“The Commission should never have approved her appointment given her clear links to the food industry, which is completely at odds with the need for independence at the EFSA,” Bové told a press conference in late September.

On Thursday, the Management Board reported that it had had “a thorough discussion” of potential conflict of interest issues before electing Bánáti and two vice-chairs.

“The Board deplores the unfounded attacks on the independence of EFSA and its Chair recently reported, and concluded that by no means the integrity of the persons involved could be questioned,” it said on its website.

However, the Board added that in order to avoid misperception, Bánáti should step down from management positions in any organisations that represent food industry interests, apart from public interests.

“Professor Diána Bánáti has resigned from positions which may create a potential conflict of interests with EFSA activities,” the Board reported.

Professor Diána Bánáti is director general of the Central Food Research Institute of Hungary. As vice-chairs, the Board elected Sue Davies, chief policy adviser at the UK consumer organisation Which? and Piergiuseppe Facelli, head of international affairs at the Italian Ministry of Health.

EFSA has also said it is seeking to extend its list of external scientific experts, in order to help it assess the independence and effectiveness of its practices. The body said the experts would be part of a new External Review Working Group, with areas for assessment to include chemical risk assessment; nutrition and novel foods; biological risk assessment and zoonoses data collection; animal health and welfare; plant health; GMOs; risk assessment methodologies and emerging risks.