'EFSA’s Achievements and Building EFSA’s Strategic Plan for 2009 - 2013', European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Brussels

Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle

Mr Chairman
Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

I feel very honoured to have this opportunity to be with you today. This occasion is very important as I would like to update you on EFSA’s activities and also to seek your views as we prepare our strategic plan for 2009 – 2013. This plan will be submitted to the Management Board of EFSA for adoption by the end of the year.

The future EFSA may bear little resemblance to the one we built five years ago if we want to guarantee the same high level of consumer protection that we set out to achieve.

Societal changes, the advance of science and the expectations of our “customers” – the risk managers and ultimately European citizens – mean that we also must adapt to prepare for the challenges of the future.

Achievements in 5 years
Many of you were involved in or attended the Scientific Forum and the Summit – “From Safe Food to Healthy Diets” – last November when we were celebrating our fifth anniversary and I would like to thank all of you who helped to make those events such a success.

We had 800 participants on site and we are proud that we could attract so many participants from a diverse range of backgrounds. We had representatives of the Portuguese Presidency, representatives of the European Commission, members of the European Parliament, and members of this Committee. We also had representatives of national governments, national risk assessment bodies, international organisations and stakeholders interested in EFSA’s work. In addition, the web-stream of the events was watched in more than 38 countries.

Looking back to the past five years, I believe that it is valid to say that we have proven that the separation of risk assessment and risk management not only works, but brings an added value to the food safety system. This was also acknowledged by the participants in the Scientific Forum and Summit.

Since EFSA’s inception, we have published more than 600 opinions and processed more than 1600 applications. More and more, tasks are allocated to EFSA, a mark of the confidence placed in the quality and independence of our risk assessments.

We are constantly reviewing our procedures in order to refine our working methods and deliver the best possible science upon which decisions can be based.

We also follow closely the activities of the EU institutions on the governance of agencies and we are working on the governance of EFSA in order to be well prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

This year two new directorates - one on Risk Assessment, and one on Scientific Cooperation and Assistance - were created in EFSA.

In parallel, we have increased the efficiency of our recruitment; at the end of March our staff numbers had reached 325, 100 more than at the end of 2006. Between 2006 and 2008, we will have doubled the staff members dedicated to scientific activities and we will further increase this. At the end of this year, 61% of the total staff of EFSA will work in one of the scientific directorates – compared to 51% in 2006. In total, 70% of our budget will be allocated to scientific activities.

We are also now in the process of replacing the current AFC Panel, which deals with additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food, with two new panels. The AFC Panel has experienced the highest workload and has assessed more than 1300 applications since it was established. The new ANS Panel will deal with food additives and nutrient sources added to food and the CEF Panel with food contact materials, enzymes, flavourings and processing aids. This will enhance our capacity and will facilitate the work of our scientific experts. We are confident that the two Panels will be fully operational at the end of this year.

In addition, we are building on the networking with Member States to be able to make effective use of synergies, benefit from the expertise available in Member States and avoid unnecessary duplication of work. We started in 2007 to implement our Strategy for Cooperation and Networking and we have established working groups with the Member States on topics such as fortification with folic acid, the safety assessment of botanical preparations, harmonisation of risk assessment methodologies and chemical occurrence data.

To date we have signed 22 Focal Point agreements with national authorities. These Focal Points were established with the remit to facilitate information exchange, build strong networks between EFSA and all players in the food safety system, and to coordinate risk assessment institutes within Member States. We hope to have in place by the summer all of the Focal Points – a mark of the commitment of Member States to strengthen their co-operation with EFSA.

Article 36 of our Founding Regulation enables competent institutes designated by Member States to assist us in our activities.

And EFSA is now making ample use of this mutually beneficial capacity. For 2008 a total of 21 calls are planned compared to 10 in 2007 with a total allocated budget of more than €2.5 million, a growth of more than 20% on last year.

In 2007, we have published a record number of more than 200 opinions in our core business, risk assessment. We are also in the process of further strengthening our role in the areas of animal health and animal welfare and nutrition – just a few weeks ago we have published a concise food consumption database. This will enable the comparability of exposure data across Europe, thereby enhancing exposure assessment, a key step in risk assessment. Access to this database will provide benefits for both EFSA and the Member States.

When I last addressed you, you drew my attention to the importance of ensuring the independence of the Authority’s work. Since then, we have revised the procedures and the policy for declarations of interests with the aim of strengthening our credibility and ensuring transparency.

We are already implementing the revised procedures for members of the Management Board, Scientific Panels, the Scientific Committee, external experts and staff, and all declarations are being progressively published on our website.

In April, we start implementing the internal quality review process for our scientific outputs based on the advice given last year by our Scientific Committee. This system will consist of self-review according to best scientific practices and an internal review by senior scientific staff not involved in the opinion. Later in 2008, the third component of the quality system - review by independent external scientists - will be designed.

Additionally in 2007, emphasis was put on coherence in communication and dialogue with risk managers. For example, we started sending to you a bi-monthly newsletter about EFSA’s work as well as specific information on certain topics and I hope that this is useful for you.

Press coverage was increased by 50% in 2007 and the new EFSA webpage attracts an increasing number of visitors.

Food Safety and EFSA at a turning point
But, we cannot be complacent with these achievements. We have to continue to be proactive in addressing changes.

Today, food safety – along with EFSA itself – is at a turning point.

An increasingly globalised food trade, and the associated movement of food commodities, may lead to emerging or re-emerging risks.
In the same way as food travels, so do disease vectors, and animal or plant diseases may occur in areas where they have never been reported before. Climate change might further complicate this picture. In August 2006, we have already faced outbreaks of Bluetongue, an animal disease affecting domestic and wild ruminants, such as sheep and cattle, in several Northern European countries, a precedent of what we might expect from climate change in the future.

Socio-demographic changes in Europe have influenced the traditional diets and obesity and its related disorders have started to challenge European public health resources.

Science advances relentlessly. As detection methods become increasingly more sensitive and smaller amounts of substances can be detected, questions are triggered on the impacts of these substances on food safety. To illustrate with an example, since the discovery of acrylamide in foods in 2002, we have continuously monitored new scientific development with regards to its formation and occurrence in foods and potential carcinogenicity. In May, we are holding a colloquium of experts to update the state-of-the-science and to discuss new scientific evidence related to the toxicity of acrylamide.

In addition, scientific research continues to build food safety knowledge, meaning that risk assessment methodologies have to be regularly re-visited in light of new evidence. New technologies, while they may bring many benefits and opportunities, can inadvertently also mean new uncertainties and new challenges for risk assessments.

EFSA will also have to engage further in areas such as nutrition and risk/benefit assessments in certain areas, emerging risks and data collection.

When I was last in front of this Committee, you expressed your concern as to how we would manage the increasing workload – and rightly so. Since the start of the Authority’s operations in 2003, the workload has multiplied by four and will continue to rise.

A particular challenge for EFSA is the impact of new food legislation on its workload. This in turn has important implications for EFSA’s operations and resourcing.

Sometimes the establishment of new legislation means that hundreds of applications, or reviews of applications, have to be dealt with at the same time. For example, as a result of the regulation on nutrition and health claims adopted last year, 1000-2000 claims will have to be evaluated by EFSA’s NDA panel in the space of 12 months. Similarly, the review of food additives and nutrient sources added to food by itself will require assessment of more than 900 applications, while the evaluation of flavourings includes 2800 substances. In addition, the evaluation of 2600 substances used as feed additives will start in 2010.

Therefore to manage this workload and establish priorities, dialogue with risk managers is crucial. We already work closely with the Commission in this context and we will build on this.

Strategic Plan 2009-2013
Beginning with our reflections in November last year, we have started to look into the future to enable us to better protect public health in 2013. In the context of the preparations of our Strategic Plan 2009-2013 we have identified the following six strategic areas.

1. First of all, we will continue to provide an integrated approach to delivering scientific advice associated with the food chain from field to the plate

EFSA has a broad remit that includes all issues that have a direct or indirect impact on food and feed safety. Due to this integrated approach and the multidisciplinary competences of our experts, EFSA has the ability to provide comprehensive scientific advice and to contribute to the prevention or reduction of risk throughout the food chain.

2. Secondly we will provide timely, high-quality evaluation of products, substances and claims subject to the regulatory authorisation process.

Since inception, the proportion of our resources devoted to authorisations – currently about 50% – has grown considerably and will continue to be significant in the coming years.

To ensure that it can deliver on this crucial part of its remit, the systems and workflows associated with managing authorisations will be strengthened and optimised to ensure that EFSA meets expectations in terms of quality and timeliness.

3.Thirdly, we will develop and provide access to unique pan-European scientific databases related to food and feed safety and nutrition

One of the key added values of the Authority is its unique ability to collate, analyse and disseminate European data and information related to food and feed safety and associated areas.
Positioned, as it is, at the centre and coordinating point of data flow from the current 27 Member States, EFSA will act as a
coordinator for food data for the benefit of risk assessors, risk managers, stakeholders and ultimately the European consumer.

These data will enhance the quality of risk assessments, and enable EFSA to proactively and identify early emerging or re-emerging risks to the food supply and in so doing provide a high level of protection to the European consumer.

4. Fourthly, EFSA will position itself at the forefront of risk assessment methodologies and practices in Europe and internationally

EFSA will be recognised as a centre of excellence for risk assessment in Europe through rigorous review of the quality of its scientific outputs and continuous improvement of its processes and methodologies.

Using a cooperative approach with all actors in Europe and beyond, it will promote the new and harmonised risk assessment methodologies and the sharing of scientific information.

5. Fifthly we will reinforce dialogue with the stakeholders and promote safe and healthy diet choices through pan-European science-based risk communication

Through its networks of risk communicators in Member States and in consultation with risk managers and stakeholders at European level, EFSA aims to provide coherent and relevant messages on all aspects of its work. In order to do so, EFSA will continue to monitor and seek to understand risk perception and consumer needs regarding information on food and feed safety and healthy diets.

6. Finally, we will assure the responsiveness, the efficiency and the effectiveness of EFSA

EFSA’s resources are organised in the context of the 2007-2013 financial perspective which anticipates that EFSA will reach its full operational size by the end of 2009. To face future challenges and improve our responsiveness, we will continue to streamline our processes. Our planning, monitoring and reporting systems will be enhanced in order to ensure sound management and improve the transparency of EFSA’s activities.

EFSA will continue to invest in IT systems to facilitate the work of our scientific experts and staff. Efficiency gains will be achieved by automating our scientific workflows. Time tracking tools will be optimised to monitor the use of resources and evaluate the cost effectiveness of our activities.
These tools, coupled with the ongoing dialogue with our customers, will enable EFSA to align its resources with the priorities.

In conclusion, it is crucial for EFSA to develop this strategic plan together with all our partners and your views are particularly important to us. With your valued input, we aim to engage all our partners and stakeholders in this important project. The Plan will be submitted to our Management Board later this year and will give direction to the Authority over the coming years.

Thank you very much for your kind attention and I will be pleased to answer any questions.