EFSA, along with the EU Medicines Agency, the Environment Agency and the Council of Ministers all failed to win the EU Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee's approval on 27 March for the way in which they spend EU funds.
The parliamentary committee yesterday decided to back a report from Romanian MEP Monica Luisa Macovei proposing to delay sanction of EFSA's 2010 budget based on what she referred to as the food safety agency's conflict of interests.
There were 15 votes in favour, 7 against and 4 abstentions. Some MEPs said they found it unacceptable that meetings of the 15-strong EFSA management board cost on average €92.630 - or €6.175 per member - and called for "drastic cuts in these excessive costs".
The parliamentarians also pointed to conflicts of interests, saying the chair of the EFSA management board was reported to have direct links to the food industry, and to be a member of the Board of Directors of the lobby group, the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) - Europe.
The committee called on the Court of Auditors to finalise and present an audit on so-called “conflicting interests” within EFSA and also demanded that the Authority show what it has done to improve screening of staff members and members of expert panels.
EFSA in bid to cut costs
A spokesperson for EFSA told FoodNavigator the Authority has taken note of the vote by the Committee and is ready to provide EU institutions “with any further assistance and information they may require.”
He said that the costs of holding management board meetings referred to during the Committee meeting included live video web-casting of the proceedings.
“In 2011, EFSA reduced costs by switching from live video to live audio webcasting of the meetings. In March 2012, the Board further reduced the cost of its meetings, which this year will fall below the average costs of meetings incurred by other EU agencies,” continued the spokesperson.
Assertion of independence
He added that the chair of the EFSA management board, Diána Bánáti, had, in fact, resigned from her position at ILSI in October 2010.
“The Board decided that in order to avoid any misperception of its role, the chair should refrain from having a management or influential role in organisations representing consumers and other interests in the food chain, other than public interest," said the EFSA representative.
And EFSA, he stressed, has put in place a comprehensive series of mechanisms to safeguard the independence of its scientific advice. He cited the publication this month of more transparent and more robust rules applicable to all those engaging with EFSA, scientific experts or otherwise.