Commentary by Sue Davies, Chair of EFSA’s Management Board
As those that follow EFSA’s activities closely will know, the Authority has launched a transparency initiative in recent months to facilitate public access to its work and to enhance transparency in its scientific decision-making processes.
I therefore read with interest, the latest report from Corporate Europe Observatory on alleged conflicts of interest at EFSA. The fact that EFSA makes its experts’ Declarations of Interest publicly available online allows interested parties to scrutinise for themselves how the Authority selects its scientific experts.
Assessing interests is not a simple task and the policy and rules in place are complex. Assessments are also open to interpretation as the recent CEO report demonstrates. That is why EFSA goes to great lengths to engage with its stakeholders and why that in June this year EFSA invited CEO to its headquarters to discuss in detail how the Authority implements its policy and rules on independence.
The Management Board is confident that the policy EFSA has in place to ensure independence in its scientific work is robust. The Board is also satisfied that EFSA is implementing its own rules effectively as they apply to the selection of experts and the assessment of Declarations of Interest.
The Board is greatly appreciative of the experts who respond to EFSA’s calls for volunteers to support its public health mission. Without their expertise and commitment, the current European risk assessment model would simply cease to function.
The Board expects EFSA to carefully consider the findings and recommendations contained within this latest report. This would be the case for all and any feedback EFSA receives from stakeholders about its policies and procedures on independence and transparency.
This report, however, raises questions that go beyond mere processes and policies at EFSA, questions that speak to the broader relationship between science and society. These may have to do with private/public partnerships in research, the human and financial resources dedicated to risk assessment and the legislative framework for regulated products. These are issues that EFSA cannot resolve on its own, and need to be part of a wider debate.