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Conflicts of interest scandals at EFSA: A non-exhaustive chronology of recent events

- 9 September 2010 : EFSA's Management Board's chair (Banati) is found by MEP José Bové to have a conflict of interest with the food industry (ILSI Europe). Ms Banati declares leaving her ILSI position.

- 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 conflicts of interest (COIs) with industry, report by CEO. Four also did not declare links with ILSI Europe.

- 17 octobre 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 the agrofood 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 only) is introduced.

- May 2012: EFSA's Management Board chair (D. Banati) resigns from her position to become the executive director of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a large food industry lobby group. A position she still holds now (April 2017).

- May 2012: scandalised by the Banati-ILSI scandal, 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”.

- 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. EFSA refuses to answer to the journalist's questions.

- 29 April 2016: as part as EFSA’s budget procedure discharge, the European Parliament repeats in a resolution its call for a better independence policy at EFSA: “Reiterates its call for the Authority to apply a two-year cooling-off period; does not accept the Authority's justification for its refusal to implement the discharge authority's repeated demands of establishing such a two-year cooling-off period on all material interests related to the companies it regulates”.

- 1st May 2016: EFSA hires without any cooling-off period a new Communications Director, Ms. B. Gallani, who was for more than eight years a lobbyist for the largest food industry lobby group in the UK (The Food and Drink Federation).

- 26 February 2017: the documentary “Colorants, edulcorants, conservateurs, que cachent ils ?” broadcasted on France 5 focused on a controversial food coloring, titanium dioxyde (E171), in particular in its nano form. Half the members of EFSA’s working group that drafted EFSA’s September 2016 opinion on the substance were shown participating, co-organising and speaking at the 6th International Symposium on Food Packaging organised by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). EFSA’s opinion, concluding available data on titanium dioxide (E 171) in food did “not indicate health concerns for consumers”, was criticised in the documentary for not evaluating E171 in its nano form whereas it is present in foodstuff sold on the market.

- 27 April 2017: the European Parliament strongly criticises EFSA's draft new independence policy, which still fails to introduce an effective cooling-off period for experts and neglects the key issue of research funding. The Parliament requires EFSA to "incorporate into its new independence policy a two-year cooling-off period for all material interests related to the companies whose products are assessed by the Authority and to any organisations funded by them", and "regrets that the Authority has not included research funding in the list of interests to be covered by the two-year cooling-off period, as the discharge authority already identified in the latest discharge decisions; calls on the Authority to swiftly implement the measure in line with the discharge authority's repeated requests.

- June 11 2017: A new systematic assessment by CEO finds that nearly half (46%) of all experts sitting on the scientific panels of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) still are in a direct and/ or indirect financial conflict of interest situation with the agribusiness and food industries.

- June 23 2017: EFSA's Management Board adopted a new Independence Policy. EFSA's press release presented the policy document in a way that made it look as if the agency had addressed the main demands of the European Parliament, but this was misleading. CEO's analysis is here. In general, the policy is a modest improvement compared to the previous one but does not close its main loopholes. The scope for assessing conflicts of interests for experts on EFSA's scientific advice panels appears to remain much too narrow, which would render it unfit to phase out financial conflicts of interests in the agency. Central details about the new policy have been left unclear and still need to be decided upon by EFSA's Director in the policy implementing rules.