EFSA's contribution to food safety: identifying, assessing and communicating risks

Two and a half years after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was set up, it has established itself as an independent and pioneering authority in Europe. From the outset, EFSA has focused on the core areas of activity laid down in its Founding Regulation* : risk assessment and risk communication.

EFSA’s eight Scientific Panels and Scientific Committee have jointly issued some 300 opinions to date. The Scientific Panels are composed of leading experts in their field from all over Europe, including numerous German scientists, and deal with issues related to all areas of the food chain. The evaluation of additives and flavourings, the scientific assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms, BSE, animal health, pesticides and allergens: these are just some of the areas dealt with so far.

EFSA’s role as ‘risk assessor’ is illustrated by its work in the field of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Using the latest scientific studies and data, scientists assess whether the GMO plant under evaluation could be harmful to public or animal health or to the environment, and whether this GMO plant can be distinguished from conventional plants. EFSA officially notifies the European Commission of the result of its scientific assessment and publishes its opinion on the EFSA website. As risk manager, the Commission then decides whether to authorise the GMO plant at European level. In other words, EFSA is responsible only for the scientific risk assessment, while political decisions are taken by the European Commission.

EFSA cooperates with the EU Member States at two different levels. Firstly, the national authorities use EFSA’s risk assessments as the scientific basis for their management decisions and measures. Secondly, EFSA encourages the cooperation and contribution of these authorities, which have a similar mandate to EFSA’s, but at national level. In EFSA’s Advisory Forum, which includes one representative from each Member State, topical issues in the field of risk assessment are discussed, experiences and views exchanged and joint actions agreed upon. Germany is represented by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), both by the Institute’s Director in the Advisory Forum itself, and in the Working Groups on Communications and Information Technologies. EFSA offers a platform for a European network which has a critical role to play in the event of a crisis.

EFSA is committed to the key principles of transparency and openness. The Management Board, which monitors EFSA’s activities and the fulfilment of its mandate, has set itself this task. EFSA also sets great store by the participation of stakeholders, in other words, consumer organisations, industry and non?governmental organisations (NGOs). On 6th and 7th October 2005, the first Stakeholder Consultative Platform will be held in Parma, with the aim of consolidating and strengthening links with stakeholders. Stakeholder ‘Colloques’, on the other hand, have a long tradition. After Ostend in 2003 and Berlin in 2004, the third event of this kind will be held in Parma in November of this year. EFSA also strengthens links by organising bilateral meetings on specific topics with consumer organisations, NGOs and industry.

Risk assessment and risk communication go hand in hand. Towards the end of the 1990s, consumer confidence was shaken by numerous food scandals. To restore this confidence, professional risk communication was required. Consumer confidence can only be ensured when easily understandable, accurate and up-to-date information on food safety issues and risks is provided. EFSA seeks to reach all target groups with its information: the European Parliament and the Commission, stakeholders and journalists, scientists and experts, as well as consumers in Hamburg or anywhere else in Europe. In addition to providing information on the organisation itself, EFSA communicates on its core areas of activity through the opinions and latest findings of its Scientific Panels.

With its highly qualified and motivated staff, EFSA is well-equipped to meet the challenges and tasks of the coming years. EFSA’s development is not yet complete, although the transfer of its headquarters from Brussels to Parma in Italy will represent a milestone in this process.

* 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

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