EFSA closes public consultation of its independence policy with constructive stakeholder debate
More than 150 delegates gathered in Brussels on 12 October to discuss the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) draft policy on Independence and Scientific Decision-Making Processes. A broad spectrum of participants attended the event where everyone shared the same objective: how to ensure EFSA provides the highest calibre of scientific advice while remaining independent.
In his address, John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy recognised the efforts that EFSA has made over the years to ensure that the Authority is independent: “I can underline that over the years the independence provisions have been strengthened considerably and have contributed significantly to the fact that EFSA's reputation is one of a truly independent body offering solid scientific advice.” Commissioner Dalli then continued: “EFSA's rigorous scientific output has been the very backbone of many of our legislative initiatives. It has also been the basis of our risk management decisions, some of which have dealt with very serious threats to the food chain – the recent E. coli crisis being a very good example. “
In her opening remarks, EFSA’s Executive Director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, highlighted the fact that contributions from stakeholders are a crucial aspect of the Authority’s work and that all views and opinions offered during the public consultation and workshop will be fully considered in the development of the final policy on Independence and Decision-Making Processes.
Kartika Tamara Liotard, Member of the European Parliament Committee on Environment, Pubic Health and Food Safety gave the keynote speech. Ms Liotard outlined that trust is one of most important foundations in public policy and that consumers need to be able to rely upon the decisions made by European Institutions. She highlighted that as Europe’s food safety watchdog, EFSA’s ability to deliver independent science is crucial.
A thought provoking discussion followed as a panel of regulators, social and natural scientists debated the basic ingredients for “Trust in Science”. Participants generally agreed that public trust is fundamental but had different opinions on what constitutes independence in science and how independence should be guaranteed in scientific decision-making processes. Panel members explained that due to the very nature of the process, high quality science must be impartial however scientists who are experts in their field will necessarily have interests. Risk assessors such as EFSA must therefore ensure that interests are closely monitored and that their processes are well explained and open to scrutiny and challenge.
Dirk Detken, Head of Legal and Regulatory Affairs at EFSA, provided an overview of the main pillars of the Authority’s draft policy and the main comments received during the written consultation process. He outlined the many initiatives in place that shape the scientific decision-making process of EFSA ensuring the implementation of its core values and explained how this policy will provide a more coherent framework for the future.
The three afternoon sessions allowed stakeholders with different perspectives to discuss their contributions to the main pillars of the draft policy during the written public consultation process. Constructive debates were held on key topics related to the policy: “Quality of Science”, “Governance, Openness and Transparency” and “Assessing Interests”. EFSA took away useful recommendations for further reflection in finalising the policy and had the opportunity to explain that many of the suggested additions to the policy were already standard practice within the Authority.
EFSA will shortly publish a report on the outcomes of the public consultation, including the recent stakeholder workshop. All comments received by stakeholders during this process will be taken into due consideration and, where appropriate, incorporated into a revised draft of the policy to be presented to the EFSA Management Board by the end of the year.
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