Address to the European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Brussels
Thank you Mr Florenz.
Dear Honourable Members,
Thank you for finding space in your busy timetable to allow me to address the Committee today on the future development of the European Food Safety Authority and to seek your views and input.
This is indeed an ideal moment as EFSA has newly constituted Scientific Committee and Panels, a new Board and I have been in place only 3 months. At the same time we have the report of the evaluation carried out in 2005 from which the Board has developed 6 key recommendations providing a framework for EFSA’s future direction.
My vision is that EFSA will become globally recognised as the European reference body on risk assessment on food and feed safety, animal health and welfare, nutrition and plant health. EFSA cannot do this alone – it will need the support of this Committee and the other EU institutions, the close involvement and collaboration of the national food authorities and stakeholders with whom I also intend to have a close dialogue.
Risk assessment is EFSA’s core activity. EFSA must deliver the best science at the right time and in the most appropriate manner. In the Scientific Committee and Panels and among our staff we have indeed been lucky to be able to select high quality scientists. But to enhance their work, the scientific robustness of EFSA’s opinions, we need to be able to have access to European level data and information, from the European Commission and through scientific cooperation with the national bodies in the Member States – for me this is a crucial area for development. I would like to emphasize that EFSA must be proactive in seeking to identify emerging risks and when a new risk is found, we have to move quickly to ensure that risk managers are alerted and provided with the best information in the shortest time so that they can make the most informed decisions and protect EU citizens.
Transparency and openness in our working methods are also key concepts for EFSA to uphold. But transparency and openness are not just about communication – they are also about EFSA being able to ‘open its books’ to scrutiny from all those who wish to examine our work, our procedures and our scientific methods. EFSA’s standards are already high but I do not think we are there yet – we must continue to improve. Therefore I will be putting in place in 2007 measures to assess our performance in delivering scientific excellence by subjecting our scientific activities to internal and external review, and by further developing existing performance indicators particularly in relation to the qualitative aspects of our work.
Independence is at the heart of EFSA. Independence in the risk assessment process was a driving motivation in the creation of EFSA. This is why I attach importance to the matter of the Declarations of Interest of our experts. In this respect I have taken action to provide detailed guidance to our experts, Board members and staff on Declarations of Interest in order to improve their quality. We are also planning to further develop the existing screening mechanisms of the declarations provided. In 2007, I will put in place procedures that will introduce transparent criteria for when a declared interest may risk constituting a conflict of interest, procedures for the assignment of such risk levels and finally procedures which provide rules on the consequences should a conflict arise. It is my intention that this procedure will be made publicly available on the EFSA website.
Independence in my opinion also needs to be balanced with accountability. I want to ensure that EFSA does not become an isolated body but one that is central to the development of food and feed safety policy. EFSA is part of the European Community system, it plays a crucial role and has important responsibilities in providing the scientific basis for food and feed law. It is important that EFSA works closely with risk managers to build mutual confidence and ensure a seamless interface and coherence between all parts of the risk analysis process.
You have of course received the 6 key recommendations from the Board.
1. The first priority is to develop further the active networking and build stronger co-operation with Member States. I have already taken steps on this and I can inform you that at the meeting last week of the Advisory Forum all 25 Member States together signed a declaration of intent with EFSA to collaborate on exchanging scientific information and data. This was a milestone in EFSA’s development and a tangible example of the great willingness in the Member States to work closely together with EFSA so we can do our best to serve the interests of the citizens of the EU in sharing information and pooling resources.
EFSA will do all it can to enhance the role of the members of its advisory forum in each Member State so that they can become the focal point for EFSA’s activities and act as an ambassador for EFSA with the key players in the food chain at national level. In particular I want to ensure that we develop strong mutual collaboration with the new Member States and we have already developed close links with the national authorities in the 2 acceding States.
I will be developing with the MS and in consultation with EFSA’s Scientific Committee a strategy for greater collaboration and this will be shared more widely early in 2007.
2. The second recommendation is to enhance EFSA's organisation. I will be announcing in mid October a new organigramme which is aimed at providing a structure which will enable EFSA to better align its priorities and focus on its core activities of Risk Assessment and Communications while ensuring that these are adequately supported. I am introducing internal procedures to enhance the management of resources and I have established a Recruitment Task Force which will provide impetus to the staffing of EFSA. I am also developing more precise work programming which has the objective of clearly ondicating for our main tasks the resources dedicated to activities while ensuring that we have the appropriate tools to plan and monitor performance. This will also enable those outside EFSA to judge our work against the resources we use. In this way I want to enhance transparency and accountability.
3. Thirdly I am keen to continue to build and strengthen EFSA's relationship with its partners. I would like to ensure that EFSA provides the Parliament and other institutional partners with the services needed to carry out important risk management tasks. In the Parliament I welcome this and future opportunities to meet with you to discuss your specific needs, concerns and questions and provide you with scientific advise on matters within EFSA’s remit.
EFSA will prepare an international strategy which will outline EFSA’s approach and priorities in this respect.
I am equally keen that we continue to have a strong and open dialogue with stakeholders. In September the remit of EFSA’s Stakeholder Consultative Platform was extended for another three years and I hope to present later in 2007 a consolidation of our policy towards stakeholders with the emphasis on open dialogue.
4. The fourth recommendation relates to the enhancement of the impact and effectiveness of EFSA Communications. EFSA’s Board adopted in September an overall communications strategy aimed at further developing EFSA’s effectiveness in this respect. EFSA will work to ensure timely communications, which are suitable for their audiences and I will also be working to increase the profile and visibility of EFSA as a keystone for European risk assessment. Our main emphasis is to provide the main players in the Member States including risk managers, EU institutions, our third country partners and stakeholders with the information on the risk assessments we carry out so that they can use these as a basis for developing and communicating messages which are pertinent to their key audiences.
During 2007, for the fifth anniversary of EFSA, we will be coordinating a number of activities targeted at ensuring that the important work it undertakes is more widely known and accessible. Amongst other initiatives this will include towards the end of 2007 in Brussels a major conference open to a wide audience on important risk assessment and risk communications issues and an exhibition on EFSA’s work in the European Parliament. In this manner I hope to explain and illustrate more clearly the important contribution EFSA makes.
5. Now I come to a matter that was only very recently in front of this Committee and that is the subject of nutrition. We will further develop our activities in nutrition working closely with Member States and through this define more clearly EFSA’s role in this area. We have already started to work on providing the ground work in EFSA for our activities foreseen in the yet to be adopted Regulation on claims and EFSA will be holding a conference in Bologna on 8-10 November to look at the many issues around this new work – focusing on nutritional profiles, substantiation of claims as well as looking at best practices in the EU and from around the world.
6. And the final recommendation is to define EFSA's medium and long-term vision. I would like to inform you of my wish to work closely with all interested parties to build and plan the medium and long term future of EFSA. I look forward to future discussions with you on how we develop a shared vision for EFSA.
An important aspect of EFSA’s short and medium term planning is contained in its Work Programmes. In previous years although EFSA has submitted these to the Parliament at the preliminary stage we have not had an in-depth discussion on these. In 2007 I would like to have an exchange of views with you so that I can integrate your views into EFSA’s annual and multi-annual plans.
In conclusion, EFSA is now entering a new consolidation phase. Therefore I welcome this opportunity to have this dialogue with you at what is an important cross road in EFSA’s development.
Thank you for your kind attention.