This multi-annual programme on ‘EFSA’s international scientific cooperation 2014–2016’ builds on EFSA’s ‘Strategic approach to international activities 2009–2012’ and is guided by the recommendations of EFSA’s Management Board in connection with the 2nd External Evaluation and the Science Strategy 2012–2016. It has been developed through a process of extensive consultations with EFSA’s Scientific Committee, Advisory Forum, Stakeholder Consultative Platform and staff.
The programme takes stock of the achievements and experience gained from EFSA’s international activities. It also takes into account the common global challenges that risk assessment bodies with a similar remit to EFSA need to address, such as limited risk assessment capacity and experience, budget constraints, scientific competence and independence issues.
The programme provides an overview of the activities, mechanisms and tools already in place in EFSA to support international scientific cooperation. EFSA supports the European Union (EU) in its international commitments by providing scientific and technical advice to Codex Alimentarius-related activities, collaborating with Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committees and establishing bilateral collaboration with third countries at the request of the European Commission (EC). EFSA liaises with the EC to optimise its activities, and works with EU agencies on scientific subjects with an international dimension. EFSA is further cooperating with international organisations with responsibility for providing scientific advice or setting international standards. This includes collaboration with organisations such as WHO, FAO, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization (EPPO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). Last but not least, EFSA cooperates with third country risk assessment organisations. In some cases this cooperation is formalised through agreements with experienced regulatory agencies with a risk assessment mandate, such as in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the USA. In the case of several other countries, cooperation is formalised through ad-hoc meetings with exchange of experience, work programmes and views in food safety risk assessment.
The programme identifies as key challenges for EFSA’s international scientific cooperation the development and implementation of harmonised risk assessment methodologies, the development of internationally harmonised frameworks for collection and appraisal of scientific evidence and the coherence with EU and international partners in risk communication. Moreover, it stresses that EFSA’s international activities should continue the support provided to the EU in its international commitments; enhance EU visibility globally by disseminating what has been built in the EU thus far (e.g. principles 178/2002, scientific cooperation within EU); and boost EFSA’s recognition and reputation globally as the EU reference point for risk assessment in food and feed safety, animal health and welfare, nutrition, plant protection and plant health.
To meet these challenges and opportunities, the programme identifies the following objectives for EFSA’s international scientific cooperation 2014–16:
- Support the EU in its international commitments.
- Support EFSA’s Science Strategy 2012–16 strategic objectives: optimise the use of risk assessment capacity in the EU and internationally; develop and harmonise the methodologies and approaches to assess risks associated with the food chain; and strengthen the scientific evidence for risk assessment and risk monitoring.
- Promote coherence in risk communication and build awareness of EFSA’s activities at international level.
To support the implementation of these objectives in practice, the following key initiatives are proposed for the short term (2014–2016):
- On multilateral relations, EFSA will continue to support the EC in its Codex-related activities; improve collaboration with the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committees; and strengthen cooperation with EU agencies and institutions (e.g. the Joint Research Centre (JRC)) in areas of international relevance (e.g. developing harmonised risk assessment guidance across sectors, use of whole-genome sequence data, implementing alternative methods in risk assessment). EFSA’s ongoing collaboration activities with other international organisations and liaison groups will continue. These include joint activities with IPPC/EPPO in the area of plant protection, with OECD on the development of international test guidelines and with OIE in the area of animal health and welfare and of zoonotic diseases; and regular information exchange with the multilateral liaison groups in the area of food chemical safety and microbiological food safety.
- In the area of bilateral relations with third countries, EFSA will continue its existing cooperation with risk assessment bodies in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the USA. The establishment of bilateral relations with third countries that have launched risk assessment initiatives more recently (e.g. countries in Asia, South America, Africa) will continue on a case by case basis, in consultation with the EC. Priority shall mainly be given to risk assessment bodies in third countries which have concluded agreements with the EU. Additional tools and mechanisms for knowledge transfer are also proposed, such as international conferences and seminars on thematic areas, and exchange of staff.
- Building further on the existing communication activities, a key initiative will be to establish an international platform for the development and implementation of harmonised risk communication practices.
In the longer term, EFSA will give priority to engagements in multilateral liaison groups to discuss issues on the risk assessment agenda and to coalitions with experienced regulatory agencies at international level aimed at translating innovative science into regulatory risk assessment practice (e.g. the Global Coalition for Regulatory Science Research (GCRSR) initiative of the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA)). In the Scientific Cooperation Roadmap, EFSA will outline which other initiatives will be taken in cooperation with EU Member States, EU agencies and institutions, international organisations and third country risk assessment bodies.
Baseline initiatives proposed in this multi-annual programme can be conducted using available resources for the coordination of the international activities, in close cooperation with the various experts and staff contributing to EFSA’s scientific work. More resources would be needed if higher priority were to be given to raising EFSA’s visibility and using its competence to support the European and international risk analysis community to address emerging issues of international interest.