A top priority will be the 1760 questions from the European Commission, Parliament and Member States that the eight panels of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are currently ploughing through, with more on the way this year.
The job of the science experts on the various panels is to carry out an extensive risk assessment, from which to formulate a scientific opinion. Once created, the opinion returns back to the risk managers.
"Based on the more than 140 opinions adopted in the first 19-20 months of EFSA's active existence (from May 2003 to the end of 2004) it is the objective to adopt no less than 170 opinions in 2005,"said EFSA in a statement this week.
The 100-strong agency, currently based in Brussels but soon to move to Parma in Italy, highlighted specific work items already on the agenda that need to be tackled.
These include the new regulation on nutrition and health claims made on foods, as adopted by the Commission in July 2003 and likely to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, modified as appropriate, in the course of 2005/6.
This regulation is expected to include a number of substantial tasks for EFSA and the agency underlined it would 'prepare itself' to be ready for these tasks during the first half of the year, while maintaining dialogue with the legislative institutions on the feasibility of any new tasks.
Bearing in mind possible modifications, questions likely to be submitted to EFSA include: providing guidance/advice on requirements with respect to nutritional profiles for foods bearing claims; providing guidance/advice on acceptable health claims; developing guidelines for the implementation of the article (currently article 11) onhealth claims that shall not be allowed.
Developing guidelines for the implementation of the article (currently article 14) on preparation and presentation of information necessary to support health claims; and evaluations of individual dossiers for pre-market authorisation of health claims are also likely to be under the spotlight.
Tackling the ambitious work programme and the 170 scientific opinions, EFSA's management board confirmed the agency's drive to double staff from 102 at the end of 2004 to reach an expected target of 194.
"EFSA's recruitment drive will be fundamental to ensure that the Authority is fully poised to address its increasing workload and to carry out the extra demands being placed on it by legislation," commented Stuart Slorach, chair of the board.
It will be essential for the Authority to continue to recruit senior scientists with a high level of scientific expertise in order to effectively fulfil its mandate in the area of risk assessment, the board added.