EFSA in 2011: high-quality science, core strategic developments, crisis response

Press Release
9 July 2012

The evaluation of regulated products, further measures to safeguard independence and integrity in its work and crisis response were key aspects of EFSA’s activities in 2011, as highlighted in the Authority’s Annual Report which is published today. EFSA delivered 658 scientific opinions, reports, guidance documents and statements during 2011. The adoption of EFSA’s Science Strategy 2012-2016 by the Management Board was also an important milestone for the Authority, laying out its vision for scientific development over the coming years.

EFSA Executive Director, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, commented: “Europe faced several food safety challenges during 2011, none more so than the E.coli outbreaks in Germany and France. EFSA’s role in responding to this crisis together with its partners underlined categorically the high value that we add in terms of public health protection in Europe. In addition to the advice we gave on this and many other scientific issues, EFSA took time to further strengthen its internal systems and procedures in relation to independence and governance and to look forward, establishing its scientific priorities over the next five years. Both EFSA’s Policy on Independence and Scientific Decision-Making and its landmark Science Strategy 2012-2016 will contribute to ensuring that we continue to provide the highest quality scientific advice to European risk managers. I’m grateful to all EFSA experts and staff for their contribution to our many achievements in 2011.”

In 2011, EFSA’s procedures for responding in a crisis were tested to the full when the European Commission (EC) asked the Authority for immediate scientific assistance in the face of two E. coli outbreaks that struck Germany and France. Working closely with the national authorities and with the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, EFSA provided urgent scientific advice and technical assistance to support the EC and German and French authorities. Its staff also worked alongside colleagues in Germany to help trace the source of the outbreak, concluding that the outbreaks were probably caused by imported fenugreek seeds.

Of the 658 scientific outputs EFSA adopted in 2011, 58% were related to regulated products, an indicator of the high importance of this activity to EFSA. A significant body of work in this area was the completion of the evaluation of the final series of “general function” health claims.  These are claims made for products that relate to growth, development and the functions of the body, psychological and behavioural functions and slimming and weight control. It brings the total number of “general function” health claims assessed by EFSA since 2008 to 2,758 and marks the culmination of more than three years’ work by EFSA’s experts.

Among the other scientific highlights of 2011 were outputs on: welfare risks to animals during transport; the safety of artificial sweeteners; the risk assessment of food and feed derived from GM plants; meat inspection; and the safety of bisphenol A, used in food contact materials.

The year 2011 was also marked by the adoption of EFSA’s Policy on Independence and Scientific Decision-Making Processes. The new policy outlines EFSA’s approach to safeguarding independence and integrity in its work and integrates in one document the wide range of initiatives EFSA has put in place to uphold its core values of scientific excellence, openness, independence, transparency and responsiveness.

EFSA’s approach to safeguarding independence and integrity in its work can be seen in the related actions and decisions it took in 2011. In total, the Authority screened more than 8,000 Declarations of Interest from external experts and EFSA staff and scrutinised more than 40,000 specific declarations linked to agenda items. By doing so it prevented 356 potential conflicts. EFSA also initiated two “breach of trust” procedures.

The Communications Strategy 2010-2013 began to be implemented last year, following its adoption in December 2010. In line with the strategy’s focus on a thematic approach to communications, the aim of which is to give context and further meaning to the Authority’s scientific work, a suite of outputs was rolled-out to support its work in the area of zoonoses, including comprehensive content on the EFSA website and the publication of a series of factsheets to coincide with a high-level meeting on zoonoses in the European Parliament.

EFSA also began work on a wide-reaching internal re-organisation programme in 2011, with the objective of making better use of its resources, strengthening efficiency and providing a higher-quality service to its clients. The re-structuring took place gradually throughout 2011 and is due to be completed in 2012. Already in 2011, EFSA made structural savings of €1.98 million as a result of overall efficiency gains, particularly in specific areas such as interpretation, translation and meeting organisation.

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