Corporate Europe Observatory

Exposing the power of corporate lobbying in the EU

  • Dansk
  • NL
  • EN
  • FI
  • FR
  • DE
  • EL
  • IT
  • NO
  • PL
  • PT
  • RO
  • SL
  • ES
  • SV

More than half of experts at the EU food safety authority have conflicts of interest

Almost 60% of experts sitting on the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) panels have direct or indirect links with industries regulated by the agency, according to an independent screening performed by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and freelance journalist Stéphane Horel.

The report “Unhappy Meal. The European Food Safety Authority's independence problem”identifies major loopholes in EFSA's independence policy and finds that EFSA's new rules for assessing its experts, implemented in 2012 after several conflicts of interest scandals, have failed to improve the situation.

The authors warn that this situation casts a severe doubt on the credibility of the scientific output of the key body responsible for food safety at the EU, with the agency issuing recommendations and risk assessments on crucial public health issues such as food additives, packaging, GMOs, contaminants and pesticides.

The main loophole identified in EFSA's new rules for assessing its experts' interests is that the agency's assessment is too narrow, mainly looking at the panel's specific remit to determine whether there are conflicts of interest. Instead it should consider experts' wider conflicts of interest, in line with the agency's broader mandate to guarantee its decisions remain independent from the industry it regulates. The current approach enables dozens of experts with multiple commercial interests (consultancy contracts, research funding, etc) to still be granted full membership of EFSA panels, including a majority of panel chairs and vice-chairs.

Main author Stéphane Horel said : “We were shocked by our findings. Even without checking for undeclared interests, the number of conflicts of interest in this agency is very worrying. Experts with conflicts of interest dominate all panels but one. We found that the bulk of conflicts are from research funding and private consultancy contracts, but certain crucial institutions for scientists (scientific societies, journals) are also targeted by industry lobbying, and EFSA seems to ignore this”.

The report also shows that EFSA failed to properly implement its own new rules in several instances, and that there is no visible difference between panels assembled under the new policy and those composed using the old policy.

Martin Pigeon, researcher and campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory, said: “Despite indications of a new willingness to tackle the problem, EFSA seems not to have learnt from its previous mistakes. There are specific cases the agency was warned about years ago which remain a problem. The system in place is very resource-intensive, yet its flaws prevent it from keeping industry interests at bay. EFSA is also paying the price of EU and national research policy flaws but it should not use this as an excuse to allow such a situation to persist. It must defend the public interest. We hope this report is an eye-opener on the necessity to defend public research integrity from the threats posed on public health by industry influence”.

The report lists recommendations in the short, medium and long term that if implemented could help design a system that is more resistant against commercial pressures and closer to normal scientific practice.

Related issues: 
 
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) told CEO today, and publicly announced on their website, that they would disclose most of the raw data of studies on glyphosate used in the EU's toxicity assessment of glyphosate.

The official EU assessment of glyphosate was based on unpublished studies owned by industry. Seven months later, the pesticide industry still fights disclosure and, so far, successfully. We obtained a copy of their arguments.

The European Commission proposal on scientific criteria defining endocrine disruptors (EDCs) is the latest dangerous outgrowth of a highly toxic debate. The chemical lobby, supported by certain Commission factions (notably DG SANTE and the Secretary-General) and some member states (UK and Germany), has put significant obstacles in the way of effective public health and environment regulation.

This May is dense on the EU chemicals regulation front. Crunch time for two major files: the European Commission needs to publish the identification criteria for endocrine disrupting chemicals, and together with EU States must decide how, or not, renew the market approval of glyphosate, an herbicide produced and defended by Monsanto. Last week, the Professor Alan Boobis happened to be involved in both.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) yesterday announced it will release the majority of the raw study data used in its toxicity assessment of glyphosate. This is a welcome step towards greater regulatory transparency.
The latest revelations about ‘Steelie’ Neelie Kroes show that, when it comes to ethics and transparency, the Commission is complaisant about conflicts of interest and far too relaxed about the risk of corporate capture.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) told CEO today, and publicly announced on their website, that they would disclose most of the raw data of studies on glyphosate used in the EU's toxicity assessment of glyphosate.
In an attempt to fix its public image, Dieselgate-shaken Volkswagen names former EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard as member of its new ‘Sustainability Council’. Although the role is unpaid, it is highly questionable whether Volkswagen is actually committed to making up for its previous foul play.
 
 
 
 
 
-- placeholder --
 
 
 

The corporate lobby tour