Science in action: observers welcome EFSA’s ongoing open plenary initiative
EFSA’s open plenary meetings demonstrate how the Authority is working to serve consumers, promote open science and provide a forum for dialogue and debate. These are the views of observers who came from across Europe to attend the latest open meeting on GMOs at EFSA’s headquarters in Parma, Italy.
Last month was an important milestone in EFSA’s efforts to increase its openness and transparency to stakeholders. Two years ago the Authority opened its doors for the first time to anyone interested in observing what happens at plenary meetings of EFSA’s Scientific Committee and Panels.
Since then 127 observers have passed through EFSA’s doors to see all 10 Scientific Panels and the Scientific Committee in action at least once. As well as witnessing first-hand how EFSA’s scientists organise, discuss and make decisions about their scientific work, observers can ask questions, provide their perspectives and enter discussions with leading experts in their field.
The GMO Panel meeting held on 9-10 April is EFSA’s twenty-first open plenary and marks the second time the Panel has welcomed attendees to its deliberations. In addition to taking questions from the floor on a wide range of topics, it was also business as usual for the GMO Panel. Experts discussed feedback from EFSA working groups, new requests from the European Commission and reviewed two GMO applications; resulting in the adoption of an opinion on a GM soybean.
One observer was Justyna Nowakowska, an associate professor at the Polish Forest Research Institute. She said: “The open meeting initiative is hugely positive because it helps increase understanding of what EFSA does and how it works. We were able to participate in the meeting by questioning GMO Panel members, as well as observe their work. That is very important. The issues discussed at these meetings give you an insight into how GM science is developing and also help you see how it may impact future scientific work of research institutes like mine.”
Over the past two years, observers from industry, industry associations and consultancies have accounted for the bulk of attendees. However, increasing numbers of officials from European public bodies and visiting foreign delegations are coming to Parma; this meeting’s record number of observers (41 in total) was boosted by a delegation from ASEAN countries on an official visit to EFSA.
Many students, researchers and academics – potential EFSA experts of today and tomorrow – from European universities and other academic institutes are increasingly interested in seeing how EFSA works behind the scenes. The Authority has also received journalists and observers representing civil society organisations and openly encourages more observers from these organisations to become involved in future.
Angela Marseglia, a PhD student in food science at the University of Parma, said: “I follow EFSA’s work because it is relevant to my studies, so seeing EFSA’s experts at work and meeting other high-level scientists has been very valuable. To me, these meetings are about opening up science and allowing EFSA to show ordinary people that it works for their benefit. I think EFSA is trying hard to get that important message across.”
Joe Perry, Chair of EFSA’s GMO Panel echoed this view and said that it was important that people have the opportunity to see risk assessment carried out first-hand. “It can only be a good thing that people see science in action,” he said. “As the observers saw over the last two days, 30 EFSA scientists sitting round a table generate a lot of debate. That’s positive because the issues we deal with are challenging and they need to be examined with scientific rigor. This is part and parcel of EFSA’s policy on transparency, which I fully support.”
- ASEAN – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam).