After a stormy year of debate around conflicts of interest at Europe's 'independent' food safety agency EFSA, the European Commission recently threw some oil on the fire by nominating one of Brussels' principal food lobbyists - Mella Frewen - for EFSA's management board. But today, EU member states negotiators have reported that Frewens nomination has been rejected.
Mella Frewen, lobby chief at food industry lobbygroup FoodDrinkEurope (previously known as the CIAA) and former Monsanto employee was on the list of 14 potential candidates, from which 7 will have to be selected to replace half of the EFSA management board members this summer. Frewen has been the chief lobbyist at FDE since 2007 where she actively lobbied for instance to allow contamination of the food chain with genetically engineered plants which were not authorised in Europe. Frewen would replace Matthias Horst, chief lobbyist of the German food industry, who is now on the EFSA management board.
Corporate Europe Observatory revealed last year that no less than 4 members on the EFSA management board had links to industry. CEO and other groups argued that for an 'independent' food agency, there is simply no justification to have industry lobbyists on the board of EFSA. Management board members are installed on personal title and are supposed to act in the public interest, says EFSA's founding regulation. This is simply not credible when food lobbyists are chosen as board members.
The European Parliament unitedly denounced the nomination of Mella Frewen. At the beginning of May, the EP adopted a critical report on EFSA's budget, telling the agency to take serious action against conflicts of interest, in particular with food and biotech industry lobbygroup ILSI (International Life Sciences Institute). With a very bad sense of timing, ILSI announced one day before the vote that EFSA management board chair Diana Banati will be their new executive director! Banati has a history of close involvement with ILSI. When in 2010 it became known that she was still on the ILSI board of directors while already being chair of the EFSA management board, she was forced to step down from the ILSI position. Since then, Banati said in Scientific journal Nature, “I have met many scientists who work with ILSI as a result of my normal scientific work”, saying that she had no formal relationship with ILSI until she was contacted for the new job.
As laid out in EFSA's founding regulation, the members of the management board are appointed by the EU member states (the Council) in consultation with the European Parliament.
Members are chosen from a shortlist of candidates drawn up by the European Commission, following a public call for expression of interest. The founding regulation says that four of the 14 board members “shall have a background in organisations representing consumers and other interests in the food chain”.