An EFSA spokesperson has said:
“Barbara Gallani has a broad professional background, having worked in the public, private and voluntary sectors at various points in her career. Throughout her career, Ms Gallani has been recognised for her professional integrity and dedication to the food safety sector, whether in her time at the UK’s Food Standards Agency, the European Commission or more recently at Europe’s leading consumer organisation, BEUC, and the Food and Drink Federation. Her unique skillset, which includes communications, stakeholder relations and food policy advice at a national and European level, coupled with her training as a scientist, make her ideally suited for the role.”
Under freedom of information rules, EFSA initially only provided entirely redacted versions of Gallani’s declaration of financial interests (DoFI), and its director’s own assessment of any potential conflicts of interest. After an appeal, the full DoFI and a summary of the restrictions placed on the appointment of Gallani were provided to CEO. The most important restrictions are that Gallani will “abstain for at least one year after being recruited from bilateral interactions of a professional nature with FDF (Food & Drink Federation), FDE (FoodDrinkEurope), and SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval) employees or agents at all levels” and “abstain from the review or consideration of any file triggered by the British food and drink industry or that would have a particularly significant impact on the relevant industry to the UK”.
Gallani worked at the Food and Drink Federation, the UK’s major food industry lobby group, for over eight years. According to her Linked-In profile, she “managed a team of 20 and had overall responsibility for two steering groups, 14 technical committees, eight sectors and five associations” in her role as Director Policy and Sustainability and Chief Scientist, which the FDF website refers to as director for Regulation, Science & Sustainability.
Food industry lobbying
In the UK, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) is a major lobbyist and calls itself “the voice of the UK's food and drink industry, the largest manufacturing sector in the country”. As with many trade federations, multinational companies play a key role in steering FDF's work priorities. Four among its five presidents work for multinational companies such as Nestlé (president), Cargill (deputy president), apetito (deputy president) and Kellogg's (vice-president). And like most corporate lobby groups, the FDF usually argues for a voluntary/ industry-led approach to regulatory matters, as opposed to rules and legislation set by government, as evidenced by the FDF’s response to the announcement by the UK government of a tax on sugary drinks and Gallani’s own comments in this short video clip.
At the EU level, the FDF declares €50,000 - €99,999 of EU lobbying expenses in 2015. But many FDF members also lobby the EU directly and through other EU lobby organisations, and the FDF itself is a member of some key EU corporate lobby groups including FoodDrinkEurope, the food and drink industry's EU trade federation. Just as the tip of the iceberg, Integritywatch reports that FoodDrinkEurope (FDE) has had at least 11 meetings with the European Commission's top officials since December 2014, including with three directors-general and Health & Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.
In her DoFI, Gallani makes clear that since 2010, she has been the FDF's representative in FDE’s food and consumer policy committee and steering group.
In 2010, CEO published a major report highlighting the role of FDE (then called the Confederation of the food and drink industries of the EU, CIAA) in opposing proposals for front-of-pack ‘traffic light’ labels (a green symbol for healthy options and a red symbol for sugary, fatty and salty foods) for an alternative industry-supported but less clear labelling system. The report quoted the CIAA saying it had spent €1 billion on one of the biggest lobby battles seen in recent years – a battle which it eventually won.
Prior to working at the FDF, Gallani spent a year as a food policy executive at the British Retail Consortium, a UK trade association with several large retail chains and supermarkets on the board (Boots, Tesco, Spar, Sainsbury's...); and a year and a half at BEUC, the main federation of consumer associations in the EU. Before that, she worked on the other side of the regulatory fence, at the UK Food Safety Authority for four years. This included a spell on secondment to the European Commission’s Directorate General on Health and Food Safety.
Gallani and EFSA
And now, as of 1 May, Gallani will be the Communications director at EFSA, the EU agency in charge of providing “independent scientific advice to the decision makers who regulate food safety in Europe”. Before she was appointed to this role in EFSA, Gallani had applied to become a member of EFSA's management board, in one of the seats reserved for “representatives of the food chain”.
During the recruitment process, and according to Article 11 and 11a of the EU’s Staff Regulations, Gallani completed a declaration of interest form. Article 11 says:
“Before recruiting an official, the appointing authority shall examine whether the candidate has any personal interest such as to impair his independence or any other conflict of interest. To that end, the candidate, using a specific form, shall inform the appointing authority of any actual or potential conflict of interest. In such cases, the appointing authority shall take this into account in a duly reasoned opinion. If necessary, the appointing authority shall take the measures referred to in Article 11a.”
Inter alia, Article 11a says:
“An official shall not, in the performance of his duties and save as hereinafter provided, deal with a matter in which, directly or indirectly, he has any personal interest such as to impair his independence, and, in particular, family and financial interests.”
EFSA has promised to place on its website Gallani’s declaration of financial interests (DoFI) when she starts her new job. But as TestBiotech recently wrote: “Now it seems that the recent decision to appoint Ms Gallani has revived the revolving doors policy at EFSA; except that now the “revolving doors” are no longer hidden but firmly established as the main entrance to upper management levels.” This latest case indicates that EFSA's policy considers that transparency would, by itself, make conflicts of interests disappear.
Remarkably, despite listing a whole range of roles in the food and drink sector in recent years (in addition to those listed above she also has been a member of the SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval) board, Food Integrity advisory board, UK Food Research Partnership), when asked in her DoFI, Gallani considers that none of her current or past jobs or roles provoke a conflict of interest with her new role at EFSA.
EFSA says that it considers that its existing processes should protect against any conflict of interest in this case because Gallani will not exert “any control on the contents of EFSA’s scientific outputs”. However, given the strategic importance of the EU food safety agency's communications, including on companies' reputations, CEO does not find this defence convincing. EFSA was threatened with legal action in 2013 by the pesticide company Syngenta for the wording of a press release on the risks to bees of neonicotinoid pesticides; and taken to court in December 2015 by pesticide company Chemtura Netherlands for simply publishing a scientific opinion on diflubenzuron, another pesticide.
EFSA says it will put extra measures in place to address “any perception of a conflict of interest”. According to EFSA, Gallani will “abstain for at least one year after being recruited from bilateral interactions of a professional nature with FDF (Food & Drink Federation), FDE (FoodDrinkEurope), and SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval) employees or agents at all levels”; “abstain from the review or consideration of any file triggered by the British food and drink industry or that would have a particularly significant impact on the relevant industry to the UK”; highlight any “concrete or actual conflict of interest” to the director of EFSA; and undergo training on ethics.
These restrictions imply that the agency does not understand the concrete implications of its hiring decision vis a vis Gallani. “The British food and drink industry”, judging from the list of members of the Food and Drink Federation, means all major food and drink companies in Europe (Nestlé, Mars, Mondelez, Danone, Cargill, Coca-Cola, etc.). If EFSA is serious about implementing restrictions, Gallani will be the Communications Director of the EU food safety agency but not allowed to say anything about any product coming from the leading food and drink companies in the EU! This is clearly ridiculous. As a mere minimum, EFSA should have applied a long cooling-off period, or preferably in CEO’s opinion, appointed someone else.
CEO contacted Gallani before publishing this profile and the full exchange is available here. She told CEO that
“Apart from attending the EFSA Science Conference in Milan, as a delegate, in October 2015, I had no direct contact with EFSA while working at FDF, as my role had a UK dimension rather than a European one … FDF, as all other relevant national trade associations, contributed data and comments to FoodDrinkEurope's responses to EFSA's consultations.”
She also says:
“I will be keen to follow EFSA's advice on any mitigation measures considered appropriate to address any perception of conflict of interest in relation to my appointment.”
EFSA and conflicts of interest
Corporate Europe Observatory (and others organisations such as TestBiotech) have a long track record of demanding more transparency, independence and integrity at EFSA and our efforts are documented on our website. Overtime, CEO has participated in countless public and private consultations, open discussions and conferences with EFSA to try to improve their policy and practice, including to try to block the revolving door. Meanwhile, since 2011, the European Parliament has made clear it wants the agency to improve its reputation and in particular to impose a two-year cooling off period on financial conflicts of interests.
The following, non-exhaustive chronology of recent conflicts of interest scandals at EFSA gives an idea of the problems:
- 10 November 2009: Suzy Renckens, leading staff member of EFSA's GMO Panel, found to have left the authority for biotech company Syngenta without cooling-off period. On 29 May 2013, the EU Ombudsman declared that EFSA failed to take adequate measures to prevent conflict of interests arising from this step.
- 1 December 2010: leading members of EFSA's GMO Panel (Harry Kuiper, Gijs Kleter) found to have close connections to ILSI, report by Testbiotech.
- 23 February 2011 : four members of the Management Board (Kovac, Horst, Ruprich, Vanthemsche) are found to have links with industry by CEO.
- 15 June 2011: 11 out of the 20 members of the ANS panel have COIs with industry, report by CEO. Four also did not declare links with ILSI Europe.
- 17 October 2011: NDA panel chair (Flynn) has COI with industry, report by Süddeutsche Zeitung
- November 2011: 12 out of 21 members of the GMO panel have COIs with industry, notably the panel's chair (Kuiper) – CEO report.
- December 2011: EFSA adopts a new independence policy (main feature: industry employees are no longer allowed to become experts for EFSA) stating that “only evident and general conflicts of interest should be banned”.
- December 2011: 10 out of 13 members of EFSA's working group on TTC have COIs with industry, report by PAN Europe
- February 2012: EFSA's Director publishes the implementing rules of the agency's new independence policy. The main current loophole in EFSA's independence policy (interests assessed according to the panel's mandate) is introduced.
- May 2012: EFSA's Management Board chair (D. Banati) resigns her position as chair to become the executive director of ILSI.
- May 2012: the European Parliament postpones EFSA's budget discharge for 6 months because of its bad management of conflicts of interests.
- October 2012: an investigation by the European Court of Auditors finds EFSA's management of conflicts of interest situations ''inadequate'' and called for reform. But since these findings were related to the pre-2011 policy EFSA considers the job is already done.
- December 2012: Le Monde describes how almost half of the members of EFSA's working group on endocrine disruptors have conflicts of interest.
- October 2013: a joint investigation by CEO & Stéphane Horel finds that almost 60% of EFSA experts have at least one conflict of interest. Wide coverage in Le Monde, New York Times, Der Spiegel.
- December 2013: investigative TV report (Envoyé Spécial, France 2) finds ''more than half'' of EFSA's experts have COIs – shocking images of EFSA in denial of an obvious case (D. Parent-Massin, ANS panel)
- February 2014: 52 % of scientists working on pesticides mixtures in food for EFSA have ties with industry, report by Pesticides Action Network Europe
- 3 April 2014: as part of EFSA's budget discharge procedure, the European Parliament adopts a resolution demanding that the agency imposes “a two-year cooling-off period to all material interests related to the commercial agrifood sector”.
- April-May 2014: case of I. Rietjens, member of CONTAM panel and former chair of ANS panel, failed to declare 50,000€ income from food company Royal Wessanen, ''resigned'' by EFSA after investigation by specialised website EU Food Policy.
- July 2014: EFSA publishes a reworded and slightly improved version of its independence policy, but the main loopholes remain. The European Parliament demands are refused.
- 30 November 2014: German public TV ARD reveals that several experts involved in EFSA's 2011 scientific opinion on the toxicity of endosulfan as a fish feed additive have a conflict of interest.
- January 2015: the European Ombudsman found that “EFSA has failed to take adequate account of the changing nature of universities in its conflict of interest rules and its Declarations of Interests forms” by not requesting details upon universities' contractual engagements with private companies and demanded that “EFSA should revise its conflict of interest rules, and the related instructions and forms it uses for declarations of interests.”
- 29 April 2015: as part of EFSA's budget procedure discharge, the European Parliament adopts a resolution where it “strongly regrets that the main loopholes in the Authority's implementing rules have not been closed” despite EFSA's policy review and “reiterates its call that the Authority should apply a two-year cooling-off period to all material interests related to the commercial agri-food sector, including research funding, consultancy contracts and decision-making positions in industry-captured organisations”.
- 31st May 2015: an in-depth investigation on ethoxyquin by public German TV ZDF is denied an interview by EFSA to explain how it evaluates this substance, used in animal feed and at the centre of many concerns documented in the film, in particular in salmon. One of EFSA's experts involved in the opinion has a conflict of interest documented in the report. EFSA explained it could not talk to a TV crew before its work on the substance was finished (its November 2015 scientific opinion was inconclusive).
- October 2015: EFSA sends its follow-up report to the European Parliament and explains that, again, it refuses the Parliament's demand, considering that its current independence policy “guarantees a robust and sophisticated way to avoid potential conflicts while at the same time allowing EFSA to attract and retain suitable scientific expertise”. The agency promises to introduce two-years cooling-off periods for certain interests of experts working in EFSA panels, but since these will be only assessed taking account the panel mandate and not the Agency's broader remit to be independent from economic interests it regulates, the change is likely to be very limited.
- 1st February 2016: Swedish radio reveals several conflicts of interest among the authors of EFSA's 2010 scientific opinion on sugar and obesity.
- 28 February 2016: the documentary “Light, mensonges et calories” on French public TV France 5 points to the conflicts of interest of several EFSA experts involved in the agency's 2013 scientific opinion on aspartame.
You can also read our comment piece here.
“With this appointment, EFSA once again indicates that, at best, it does not understand its political environment, or that, at worst, it does not care about its independence from the sector it is regulating. Whichever way, the decision to appoint someone direct from the British food industry lobby is a disaster for what was left of EFSA's credibility. Media reports keep accumulating on the existence of conflicts of interest at the agency but the agency keeps blaming bad journalism and says it needs to improve its communications. By hiring someone from the food industry? This appointment should not have gone ahead.”