'The publication of this short-list today marks another important milestone on the road to fulfilling the Commission's commitment to getting the Authority off to a flying start,' so claimed the European Commission earlier this year when commenting on the list of candidates for the Management Board of the new European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). But for flying, read crawling, and for milestone, read inch.
In February this year the European Council of Ministers agreed on a new legislation that would provide Europe with a new edifice to food safety - the EFSA, a watchdog for food safety standards inspired by one too many food safety scares. But more than six months down the line we are still waiting.
'Why so slow?' FoodNavigator.com asked Beate Kettlitz, Food Policy Adviser at the European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC). " Administration…bureaucracy," she replied.
But the delay is not the primary concern for the organisation. In a recent statement they wrote a vociferous response to the choice of individuals for the new Management Board of the EFSA. "BEUC condemns the agreement reached by the Committee of Member States' Permanent Representatives to the EU on the composition of the EFSA Management Board…they have packed the board with officials, mostly working under the direction of national governments," said Kettlitz.
The EFSA is a major component of the legal and organisation reforms initiated by European Commissioner Byrne and a management Board and Executive Director have to be in place in order for the Authority to be able to function. But the EFSA has not even opened its front doors and already there is disharmony.
The principal complaint by the BEUC is that out of four nominees [Thirty candidates put forward for the Board, of which fourteen were selected] listed as coming from consumer organisations only one was appointed.
"The first proposal from the Commission called for four representatives from consumer and industry. Parliament then amended this to four representatives of consumers and other groups of interest. And what is the result? Two farmers, three industry but only one consumer organisation."
"We are very happy with the selected candidate, Deirdre Hutton, Chair, National Consumer Council, but we also had three other very strong candidates," added Kettlitz.
Criticism of the Board does not stop there. "We also condemn the procedure followed," said Kettlitz. "First, the governments decided that they would each have one nominee - thereby limiting their choice of expertise and experience. Whatever the merits of the individuals appointed, the overall balance is wrong, and offers little hope of resolving the failures of the previous system,"
"By amending the criteria for the Board and stating its opinion, the European Parliament had tried to influence the make-up of the Board," added Kettlitz. The fact that little notice was heeded is a clear disappointment for BEUC.
What would they like to see? " We would like at least two consumer representatives and fewer government representatives," Kettlitz clearly stated. "The Advisory board at the EFSA is already composed of government representatives - which means that Member State national governments have a double representation at the EFSA. "
Critics to the Board selection might be justified in asking whether such massive government representation was the right route to take, particularly in the knowledge of a statement earlier this year by the European Commission.
'Those who have a background in organisations representing consumers and other interests in the food supply chain are specifically identified on the short list,' wrote the Commission. 'Included on the list of 30 are many internationally renowned food safety experts, managers, scientists and those whose credentials will enable the Board to guide the new Authority.'On closer inspection it would appear that out of a total of fourteen (not including an additional representative from the Commission) individuals on the Board, the composition is the following: one consumer organisation, five organisations representing other interests in the foodchain, and the rest is largely governmental with a minority of scientists.
Let's hope the Board has the right cocktail of experience, competence, knowledge and understanding to carry the EFSA through its infancy stage and into fully fledged adulthood. And the next step on the path to EFSA completion? An Executive Director - one of the first jobs for the newly appointed Management Board. How will consumer organisations and industry bodies react? For a European body established to help increase consumer confidence, and implicitly trust, in the food we eat it is essential that the Board gets it right. In the words of Jim Murray, BEUC Director when commenting on the new Board, " The new Authority has a difficult job to do, the governments have just made that job more difficult. The Authority must now try to win our trust by the excellence and independence of its work." In the interest of the consumer and the food industry it must meet this challenge.
FoodNavigator.com will be continuing the debate on the European Food Safety Authority in a series of forthcoming interviews. If you would like to comment, please send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org