The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said its newly launched Applications Helpdesk Unit will help create more transparency about how the Parma-based agency carries out its functions and will further clarify how applicants “submit information, support growth and enhance competitiveness.”
EFSA said that since 2003, the number of annual requests it has received for applications-related evaluations has increased considerably. “These now account for 40% of the Authority’s resources, twice the 2008 level, and as many as two-thirds of its scientific outputs,” explained the agency.
Citing recent legislative changes in the EU, the risk assessor said that its workload on the evaluation of regulated substances is likely to continue to grow with a large number of new applications for feed additives, food enzymes and flavourings expected in the coming years.
And the assessment of other types of applications is becoming more complex, added EFSA.
Front office portal
Per Bergman, acting director of EFSA’s Scientific Evaluation of Regulated Products Directorate, commented: “The Authority has established the Applications Helpdesk to act as a ‘front office’ and ‘support desk’, providing information and support for applicants, member states, stakeholders and other interested parties.
Our first major initiative is the launch of a new service on EFSA’s website where users can access information about applications and submit specific questions related to the legal and technical requirements for evaluations.”
Typical queries, said EFSA, that may be put to the helpdesk on food ingredient assessment could include:
- I have submitted a regulated food ingredient application for safety evaluation by EFSA. How can I check the status of my application?
- I am not sure if my substance requires authorisation. Who should I contact? And
- What happens to my application when EFSA has received it?
The move comes on the heels of recent questioning about the risk assessor’s scientific independence by NGOs such as the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and Réseau Environnement Santé (RES).
September saw the two NGOs demanding the dismissal of two experts from EFSA’s scientific panel on food additives and nutrient sources added to food (ANS) on the basis of their "undisclosed industry ties".
The CEO and RES claimed the scientists - Riccardo Crebelli and Ursula Gundert-Remy - failed to declare consulting services for the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a food industry-funded think tank and lobby group.
Questions about EFSA scientific independence draw industry-wide interest, particularly in light of the Commission's recent request to the Parma-based agency to conduct a full re-evaluation of the safety of aspartame by July 2012, due to MEPs’ concerns.
The NGOs have also written to EU administration commissioner, Maroš Šefcovic, urging tighter regulation to enable greater transparency in relation to industry ties within the EU's agencies.