EFSA rejects ‘secret studies’ allegations

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

EFSA rejects ‘secret studies’ allegations

Related tags: Efsa

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has rejected accusations that it is secretive about the studies it assesses to determine the safety of foods, as claimed by a coalition of NGOs in an open letter.

Ahead of EFSA’s conference on transparency​ being held in Parma today, the non-profit campaigning group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), published an open letter​ claiming that EFSA lacks transparency in its decision making on food product safety, largely because of industry claims that data is commercially sensitive.

“Having industry perform and report the tests on which authorizations are based casts doubt on the validity of the entire authorization process,”​ said Nina Holland, a researcher and campaigner at CEO, one of the letter’s signatories.

“The fact that the details of the tests are kept secret only adds to the lack of public confidence in EFSA's assessments. The minimum solution to this situation is full and pro-active transparency of these dossiers from the moment they are submitted to EFSA, pending a more adequate risk assessment system.”

This is not the first time that EFSA’s transparency in risk assessment has been questioned, and the agency launched an initiative in January specifically to address this issue,  including allowing public access to scientific data and opening its scientific meetings to the public. This followed a report from independent auditors last year​ that said its communication was “adequate for a well-informed target audience”.

Full access to documents

Responding to the open letter, EFSA spokesperson Stephen Pagani told FoodNavigator: “There are no secret studies. Under EU law, interested parties with a legitimate request can have full access to the documents of the European institutions – Public Access to Documentation. EFSA always responds to such requests.

“…Normally, access is allowed to such documentation except where information is claimed to be confidential by the applicant.  If the applicant claims confidentiality to parts of an application, it is up to the European Commission or a Member State to decide whether the claim for confidentiality is justified or not.”

Today’s conference aims to facilitate public access to data used in risk assessments, and to discuss how to make data available to the broader scientific community and interested parties, as well as when and how this could be done.

Pagani added that it was a fundamental EU principle that companies set to profit from regulated products – such as GMOs, active substances used in pesticides and food additives – must provide evidence that they are safe.

“Where new research on a specific substance is required to demonstrate its safety, manufacturers must bear the cost of producing the required data for the risk assessment,”​ he said.  “…Though regardless of the source, EFSA critically and rigorously evaluates all the data submitted as well as the design of the studies that produced them to ensure that they meet the standards required to ensure consumer protection.”

Related topics: Policy, Food labelling

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1 comment

Patents and trade secrets shouldn't trump health

Posted by Cassandra,

If I was a corrupt manufacturer, how would I like the safety of my products established? Well, let's see...
1. I'd want to do the research that establishes that safety myself
2. I'd want to control what safety questions are asked.
3. I wouldn't want to have to share all my research with outside authorities, only that that supports my assertions of non-harm.
4. I'd want to be able to use the proprietary nature of my products and processes to withhold details of my studies from skeptical, or even objective, eyes.
5. I'd want to be the sole arbiter of what comprises that proprietary interest.

Hmmm. What do you know? That would appear to be the system we have in place.

The requirement that producers underwrite the cost of research doesn't mean they have to actually perform the research themselves. They could fund government or regulated third party agencies to perform the research, with the requirement that all results be made public. If necessary, two versions of reports could be prepared, one with proprietary elements redacted but with no design elements or findings hidden.

The idea that regulatory agencies should have no say in deciding what reports are withheld from the public is absurd, and institutionalizes opportunities for corruption.

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