Scientific Cooperation between EFSA and Member States: taking stock and looking ahead (report)

Question Number
12. Juli 2011
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Scientific cooperation between the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Union (EU) Member States is an integral part of EFSA’s Founding Regulation (EC) No 178/2002[1] and thus is a key priority of EFSA, as set out in its Strategic Plan 2009-2013[2][3]. The December 2006 EFSA Strategy for Cooperation and Networking[4] identified four priority areas for scientific cooperation between EFSA and Member States. Two years later, an Interim Review[5] of the Strategy aimed at further strengthening the cooperation. Strong cooperation with Member States remains crucial for EFSA to ensure that consumer protection and health policy are supported by the most robust scientific evidence available. It takes place through national competent authorities, scientific organisations, and individual experts.

This Report summarises scientific cooperation activities of EFSA’s Scientific Committee (SC), its Panels and Units in the area of food and feed safety, animal health and welfare, plant health and plant protection, while also looking at the challenges that are waiting for EFSA in the coming years. It covers data collection, research and scientific evaluation activities which underpin EFSA’s work.

The Advisory Forum, Focal Points, and dedicated networks are key vehicles for data and information exchange, consultation, and work sharing between EFSA and Members States. The importance of networks, both for supporting the risk assessment process and for data collection programmes, will further increase. These networks facilitate scientific cooperation through the coordination of activities, the exchange of information (e.g. on recent risk assessment activities or on data collection), the development and implementation of joint projects (e.g. scientific events and workshops), and the exchange of expertise and best practice in the fields within EFSA’s mission. Under Article 36 of EFSA’s Founding Regulation, the Authority can award grants to organisations that have been officially nominated by Permanent Representations of Member States to assist EFSA in its tasks - a successful way to bundle expertise and resources at national and EU level. In addition, the Authority commissions scientific projects under procurement. Effective pooling of excellence is also supported through EFSA’s steadily growing Expert Database, which is accessible to EFSA and to competent authorities in Member States to search and identify the most appropriate experts available. The following specific cases provide examples of efficient scientific cooperation:

(a) In the area of contaminants in the food chain, Member States cooperate with EFSA by submitting occurrence data for various contaminants in food and/or feed (e.g. heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, and marine biotoxins). Dietary habits can vary considerably between Member States. Hence, it is important to assess exposure in the Member States. A good example is a series of risk assessments related to marine biotoxins carried out by the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM). To this purpose the unit dealing with Data Collection and Exposure (DATEX) compiled data submitted by competent authorities in Member States on both toxin occurrence and shellfish portions consumed in single meals. These data enabled the CONTAM Panel to identify an appropriate estimate of a large portion size consumed in Europe to be used in the risk assessments, and thus helped protecting consumers with a high consumption of shellfish against acute effects of marine biotoxins.

(b) Since 2005, EFSA also ensures a close collaboration with competent authorities in Member States in the framework of applications in the area of genetically modified organisms (GMO) for cultivation (submitted under Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003). In this context, EFSA collaborates with competent authorities of Member States that have volunteered to take charge of the initial Environmental Risk assessment (ERA) of GMO applications for cultivation. In 2010 the dialogue with competent authorities in Member States has further been strengthened through the creation of a network, where scientific experts from competent authorities and EFSA work together.

(c) With regard to biological hazards (covered by the BIOHAZ Panel), cooperation with Member States takes place through the networks on spongiform encephalopathies (BSE-TSE) and the Microbiological Risk Assessment (MRA). These networks have identified emerging issues and triggered several self-tasking mandates.

(d) EFSA’s Zoonoses Data Collection Unit (ZOONOSES) collects, analyses, and reports data on zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance, microbiological contaminants, and food-borne outbreaks. It further extracts specific datasets to support the preparation of scientific opinions. Datasets have been provided e.g. on

  • opinions on Salmonella targets in breeding poultry flocks and flocks of laying hens;
  • Quantitative Microbiological Risk Assessments (QMRAs) on Salmonella in pigs and Campylobacter in broiler meat; and
  • opinions on the assessment of the risk of echinococcosis and porcine brucellosis (Brucella suis).

These reports are key tools for risk managers to monitor progress in the achievement of the targets.

(e) In the area of pesticides, EFSA is responsible for the EU peer review of active substances used in plant protection products. This task is carried out in line with procedures and deadlines set out in the European legislation; it involves applicants, competent authorities and the European Commission. The Regulation on Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) of Pesticides[6] foresees several data collection activities to be coordinated by EFSA. This work is coordinated by the Pesticide Risk Assessment Peer Review (PRAPeR) Unit, whilst the Plant Protection Products and their Residues (PPR) Panel is responsible for the establishment of Risk Assessment Guidance of these compounds.

Besides effective scientific cooperation, communications and dialogue on risk assessment is equally important. The promotion of coherence in risk communications was therefore identified as one of the four priority areas for strengthening the cooperation and networking between the Member States and EFSA. Cooperation and coherence in communications, implemented through the Advisory Forum Communications Working Group (AFCWG), has been strengthened through: continued pre-notification of public announcements on EFSA’s scientific work; proactive exchanges on key issues such as GMOs, food colours, and nanotechnology; and the exchange of information on “emerging issues” in individual Member States, focusing on the implications for communications.

EFSA will further build on the progress made in recent years and further engage with partners and stakeholders at national and European levels. Looking ahead to 2011 and beyond, EFSA will continue to see its workload increase, particularly in the area of authorisations. Therefore increasing efficiency is key, while boosting risk assessment capacity in Europe[7] is equally important.

This document is addressed to organisations in Member States to reflect on which areas of cooperation in food safety they wish to prioritise. Focal Points are asked to assist the Advisory Forum in starting this discussion within Member States. Bilateral discussions between EFSA and competent authorities in Member States will follow. In addition, EFSA will work together with the European Commission to anticipate the tasks allocated to EFSA in the coming years.

28. Juli 2011

[1] Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety,.
[2] EFSA’s Strategic Plan 2009-2013 can be found in all EU languages
[3 The Work Plan 2010
[4] Strategy for Cooperation and Networking with Member States(70.53 KB)
[5] Interim Review of the Strategy for Cooperation and Networking with Member States(250.72 KB)
[6] Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 February 2005 on maximum residue levels of pesticides in or on food and feed of plant and animal origin and amending Council Directive 91/414/EECText with EEA relevance.
[7] “Moving ahead from cooperation between EFSA and Member States to boosting the capacity of risk assessment in Europe” discussed at the EFSA Management Board meeting of 18 June 2009(68.31 KB)