Proscuitto beckons for EFSA
could be swilling prosecco and eating proscuitto, if all goes well.
A meeting of European leaders this weekend in Brussels finally put to bed the long-standing, and sensitive, issue of where exactly to locate the pillar of EU Commissioner David Byrne's food safety agenda - the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). But how long will the process take?
"At the moment we do not have a timetable, but the first step is to talk to the authorities in Parma in January," Geoffrey Podger, executive director of EFSA told FoodNavigator.com.
We need detailed discussions with Parma - the city offered several buildings to EFSA - but it is unclear at the moment when they are available," added Podger.
The executive director is confident that the relocation could be possible within 12 months, although less than that time period might be optimistic.
"We need a programme to move," he said.
With a final decision on location confirmed, EFSA can now get down to the nitty gritty of food safety risk assessment.
Although already underway with a staff of 70, the workload is rising steadily as the Commission calls on the agency's scientists for new opinions on foodstuffs.
Tabled at €27 million, funding for 2004 will be decided by Parliament today, a sum that more than doubles the €12 million cleared this year. With a few million in the bank, EFSA can start to recruit to top up the current staff to 150 by the end of next year.
"The applications have already started to come in," said Podger, an early sign of the popularity of the chosen location.
EFSA was born in the wake of a series of food safety crises to hit Europe. The task of the agency is to carry out - largely through a series of scientific panels - independent food safety risk assesments on foodstuffs. The responsibility for the management of risk falls on the Commission shoulders which in practical terms means that communication between the two bodies must constantly flow easily and fluidly.
Fears by industry and stakeholders alike that once removed to Parma the crucial communication between EFSA and the Commission may start to crumble are quickly curtailed by Podger.
"The challenge for us is to keep properly in touch with Brussels. At the beginning, EFSA had to make the break from the Commission, and since then we have established good relations," said Geoffrey Podger.
And fears that EFSA might disappear into the shadows? "I can guarantee that in no way will we disappear off the map!" confirmed the agency's executive director.