But the agency's strategy states that “in new fields where expertise may be scarce and mostly in the hands of the organisations that have a commercial interest in developing the new technology, expertise which is viewed to be independent of these interests may not be readily available.
“At the same time, in order not hinder technological innovation it is crucial that EFSA has appropriate access to the necessary expertise to avoid lagging behind in its scientific excellence.”
When asked for clarity on this point, a spokesperson for the EU risk assessor told this publication that it it means "even in areas where independent scientific expertise may be scarce, EFSA will always ensure the independence of its scientific advice through the implementation of its Declarations of Interests policy, which is one of the strictest of its kind in operation."
The Parma-based agency said, however, that policy around how to demonstrate how data provided to EFSA are used and managed, as well as the mechanisms by which an opinion is developed and scientific consensus is reached, still needs to be further developed.
To maintain and build trust further, the food safety body said it is continuing to find ways to build meaningful dialogue with consumers and other stakeholders in order to understand and address their risk perceptions and information needs and preferences, particularly related to new or complex scientific issues.
“EFSA will also continue to perform public consultations on scientific opinions, particularly when preparing guidance documents, and by doing so collect views from various stakeholders, risk managers and risk assessors, including the global scientific community.”
Transparency question marks
EFSA's scientific rigour has been under review of late.
In December, the EU Ombudsman found that Parma-based agency failed to ensure transparency in how it carried out its duties.
The watchdog agreed with German not-for-profit group-Testbiotech's complaint that EFSA did not observe the relevant procedural rules and did not carry out a sufficiently thorough assessment of the potential conflict of interests arising from the move of a former member of its staff to a biotechnology company.
At the time EFSA said it has strengthened its procedures related to staff leaving the agency, “building on the experience gained in the past”.
“EFSA has adopted rules which bind all EFSA staff leaving the Authority to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance of certain appointments and benefits.”
And last week saw an MEP question the validity of EFSA's review of aspartame following what she claims was support from the agency’s scientists for a statement backing the safety of the sweetener despite the fact that the agency's assessment is not due until September this year.
A spokesperson for the agency told this publication that the scientists in question, Professor Silano and Professor John Larsen (former chair of EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food – ANS), were invited to the conference as “independent experts”.
The spokesperson added: “Professor Vittorio Silano, chair of EFSA’s Scientific Committee, reaffirms any definitive statement on the safety of aspartame at this time is premature pending EFSA’s full re-evaluation."