Independence, openness, excellence - the lifeblood of the EFSA

Related tags Risk assessment European union European commission Council of the european union European food safety authority

If traceability is at the heart of new food labelling rules in
Europe then the life blood keeping it beating must be risk
management. On the eve of the first ever risk assessment on
genetically modified organisms delivered by Europe's nascent food
body, the authority confirms its founding principles -
independence, openness and excellence.

On Thursday the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is due to deliver a much anticipated opinion on the safety of NK603 - a GM maize used in feed and marketed by US biotech giant Monsanto - following months of risk assessment by scientists on the authority's 21-member panel for GMOs.

A controversial subject both in Europe and worldwide, onlookers will be eager to learn the scientist's opinion on the safety of the GM maize. An opinion that, emphasised the EFSA, finds its source in independence.

"Independence, openness and excellence - these are the pillars of the EFSA,"​ Andy Stimpson, a spokesman for the authority told yesterday.

Independent scientists working within an independent European structure and providing risk assessment opinions is the rationale behind Europe's first food safety body, but onlookers have criticised this stance, questioning whether true independence can be achieved.

Essentially the EFSA rests on four pillars - the management board composed of 14 members appointed by the Council of Ministers in consultation with the European Parliament, the executive director Geoffrey Podger, the Advisory Forum composed of Member States, and the scientific committee and eight panels.

Open to scientists around the world, the EFSA selected experts for the panels earlier this year, the composition of which are, in fact, largely European. It is the panel on GMOs that will give the opinion to the Commission on Monsanto's NK603 on Thursday.

Stimpson stressed the independence of the experts. " There is no information at all that scientists involved [in the field corn NK603 risk assessment] have been influenced,"​ he said.

When the bureaucrats and politicians created the framework of the authority they opted to keep risk management very much in the domain of the European Commission. The role of the EFSA is to provide an independent risk assessment opinion on a question fielded by the Commission. Information that the Commission may use accordingly.

EU procedure allows for member states to lodge objections on environmental or human health grounds against proposed new GMO authorisations that have come up through one or more member states. If these objections are not withdrawn by the end of a specified period, the Commission will ask the EFSA for a risk assessment.

For several months the panel on GMOs has digested and cogitated on information provided by industry, scientists, governments and consumer organisations among others. All players are free to submit information to the scientists - a leading principle behind the foundation of the EFSA.

So what's the outcome? Is Monsanto's NK603 safe? "I don't want to speculate,"​ said Stimpson.

When several years ago European Commissioner David Byrne drove through proposals to establish the EFSA, the move was motivated by a raft of food safety scares in Europe. Whatever the outcome on Thursday, when the EFSA delivers its first opinion on GMOs - an opinion arrived at by independent scientific experts - the intrinsic value of the authority, and Byrne's vision, will be in evidence.

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