EFSA and the Slovenian Risk Assessment Institutions - Strengthening capacity in food safety - Ljubljana
Dear Chair, Minister for Agriculture and Member of EFSA Management Board, Milan, Director-General for Public Health, Director-General for Food Safety, distinguished guests,
Thank you Marija for the kind introduction. It gives me great pleasure to be back in Ljubljana and I would like to thank our co-organisers for the opportunity to address this joint meeting. I would like to thank the Slovenian authorities, not only for their contribution to the organisation of this joint event, but also for hosting the 30th meeting of our Advisory Forum later this afternoon.
In addition, I wish to thank Milan Pogačnik, a valued member of EFSA’s Management Board, for his contribution as member of the Board to EFSA‘s activities.
I am delighted to have co-signed the renewal of EFSA’s Focal Point agreement with Milan today, an event which marks the ongoing close and effective relationship EFSA has with Slovenia.
Central to today’s theme of “Strengthening capacity in food safety” is the concept of cooperation, something which is far more than a concept for EFSA but is indeed one of the core values of our organisation. Cooperation at many levels is built into our activities and the achievements we have gained to date have been made possible only with the contribution of a wide range of parties, in particular the contribution of Member States.
It is increasingly important that we continue to build our relationship with Member States in order to address the collective challenges that we face. By sharing information and expertise, we can make effective use of synergies, benefit from the available pool of European expertise and avoid duplication of work and unnecessary divergence of opinion.
Cooperation is enshrined in our Founding Regulation and to reflect the emphasis we place on it, in 2008 we created a new Directorate – Scientific Cooperation & Assistance – with the remit of building cooperation and supporting our risk assessment activities. It specifically provides expertise in data collection, exposure assessment, emerging risk and assessment methodologies and more generally, enables us to respond promptly to requests for advice.
And as recent events in Ireland demonstrated, it is important that EFSA has the capacity to use its cooperation with Member States to enable it to respond quickly to requests for scientific advice and to help risk managers with their decision making. In that incident, EFSA was able to deliver independent scientific advice within two days of receiving the mandate, thanks to the strong networks we have built with the national authorities in Ireland and other affected Member States who provided access to data and expertise.
EFSA is a science-based organisation which operates on the values of scientific excellence, independence, transparency, openness and responsiveness. It now employs 400 people, 60% of whom have a scientific background.
We have built networks of 1200 scientific experts, 30 national agencies and 250 national scientific organisations without which we could not achieve our objectives. These networks of excellence across Europe and beyond have enabled us to deliver 490 scientific outputs in 2008, double that of 2007. And we need to maintain and increase this level of productivity as the number of mandates we receive is growing rapidly: by way of example in 2007 we received approximately 1 mandate per working day and by 2008 this had increased to 2. A crucial aspect of managing the growing workload is dialogue with risk managers and, for example, in mid-2008 we were pleased to agree a roadmap with the Commission on managing priorities and deadlines in relation to applications.
EFSA’s Advisory Forum
I think it is important to remind ourselves of the role of EFSA’s Advisory Forum. As outlined in Article 27 of our Founding Regulation, the Forum provides a mechanism to connect EFSA with the national food safety authorities of all 27 Member States and representatives from Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and the European Commission. Since its inception in 2003, the Forum has developed into a crucial platform for dialogue and collaboration and it is playing an increasingly active role in our work.
It facilitates information exchange, coordination of work programmes, identification and analysis of emerging risks, coherence in scientific risk assessment and communication, and helps to avoid duplication of activities. Members use the Forum to advise EFSA on scientific matters, provide suggestions for scientific activities and inform national authorities of the suitability of expert organisations to participate in calls for proposals.
As foreseen in the Strategy on Cooperation and Networking, Focal Points have been established and are active in all Member States since 2007. They have provided impetus to our cooperation activities by connecting EFSA and the national food safety authorities, research institutes and national stakeholders. With the key objective of supporting the Advisory Forum Member, their top priorities are information exchange on scientific issues and risk communication. The Focal Points are helping us to disseminate information on our activities in the Member States and also to seek the views and inputs of the Member States on our work. For example, the Focal Points have helped to promote the Expert Database and to increase awareness of the renewal of EFSA’s Panels and Scientific Committee.
At their 4th meeting in Parma last week, the Focal Points reviewed their first year of activities and discussed how to develop further.
Strategy for Networking and Cooperation
Our activities in the field of cooperation are guided by the Strategy for Networking and Cooperation which was prepared by the Advisory Forum, adopted by our Management Board in December 2008 and recently subject to an interim review. That review showed that since its original adoption in 2006, there has been a significant strengthening in our cooperation activities at all levels: at the level of Member State networks, the level of individual organisations in Member States and at the level of individual experts who join the Scientific Panels, Scientific Committee and their working groups.
With the implementation of the Strategy, several dedicated scientific networks have been created or strengthened in the areas of data collection (food consumption, chemical occurrence) and risk assessment (animal health, plant health, GMOs and BSE).
The main thrust of the Strategy is to strengthen cooperation with Member States through the Advisory Forum in collaboration with the Scientific Committee and four priority areas have been identified:
- Exchanging and collecting scientific data and information;
- Sharing risk assessment practices;
- Contributing to the harmonisation of methodologies for risk assessment;
- Promoting coherence in risk communications.
Article 36 of EFSA’s Founding Regulation authorises competent organisations to assist the Authority in its work. In 2006, our Management Board adopted a first list of public institutions that qualify for these grants and a revised list and work programme for 2009 were recently adopted by the EFSA Management Board.
The Article 36 organisations carry out a variety of scientific tasks, in particular preparatory work for opinions and data collection, which are financed through grants. In addition, science-based research organisations are commissioned to carry out scientific work through public procurement. The total amount spent on both activities was €2.9 million in 2007, €5.8 million in 2008, and in 2009 a further increase to €7.5 million is proposed.
The Head of EFSA’s Scientific Cooperation Unit, Bernhard Berger, will give a more detailed presentation of our Article 36 activities later.
Renewal of Scientific Panels and Committee
In addition to the more than 200 current Panel Members, a further 1000 ad hoc experts have supported EFSA in its work to date. The upcoming renewal of the Scientific Committee and Scientific Panels provides an opportunity to increase the number of experts from the newer Member States. The call for membership has recently closed and we were very encouraged with the response we received, with 850 experts from across Europe and beyond applying – an increase of 7% compared to 2006. I would like to thank the Slovenian Advisory Forum and Focal Point for their assistance in promoting the call.
Database of Scientific Experts
To better support the work of the Scientific Panels and to ensure that EFSA has access to the expertise it requires to exercise its mandate, in June 2008 a database of leading European experts was launched.
The database holds information on external scientific experts capable of and willing to assist Member States and EFSA. The use of the database also enhances the transparency of the selection process. By mid November, more that 1000 applications had been received from over 40 countries including, I am pleased to say, experts from Slovenia. In addition to EFSA’s use of the database, it is available to all Member States who can use it to select experts for their own activities.
ESCO Working Groups
One of the other recommendations of the Strategy on Cooperation and Networking was to establish a Steering Group on Cooperation, which includes both the Scientific Committee and Advisory Forum, to provide oversight on joint projects or ESCO working groups. These cover issues of interest to both EFSA and the Member States and to date have included projects on botanicals, emerging risks, the expert database, folic acid and harmonised risk assessment approaches.
To remain competitive European industry is encouraged to become increasingly innovative.
This applies to the food and feed industries also and, as a result, EFSA has an important role in assessing any associated risks.
New technologies used in food and feed production may have an impact on public health or the environment which is why we are committed to assessing risk in an integrated manner and to considering benefits as well as risk. By providing risk managers with a comprehensive and accurate overview, the scientific basis of their decision making is enhanced.
New technologies also bring challenges in communication. It can be challenging to translate complex scientific issues into a format that is easily understood by the public. When that audience comprises almost 500 million diverse citizens across the EU then the nature of that challenge becomes clear. As previous Eurobarometer surveys have shown, consumer concerns and perceptions vary widely across Europe. At EFSA we strive to produce clear, concise and coherent communication in a timely manner for Europe’s consumers and to understand consumers’ concerns and perceptions.
Similarly, urgent incidents require timely and coherent communication and, to illustrate once again with the recent dioxin event, EFSA’s statement on risk on December 10, 2008 was accompanied by simultaneous communication which outlined the scientific basis for risk management decisions.
I would like to mention the Advisory Forum Communications Working Group which plays an important role in our communication activities. It facilitates our cooperation with the communications departments of the national food safety agencies and helps to promote coherence in food safety messages across the EU. We were pleased to host the Working Group in Parma last week and I would like to take the opportunity to thank the members of the working group for their valued contribution. EFSA’s Director of Communication, Anne-Laure Gassin, will give a more detailed presentation of our communication activities later this morning.
In conclusion, it is evident to all of us that, if we are to meet the objectives we have set ourselves, EFSA and Member States must continue to build cooperation.
As resources at both the European and national level become increasingly precious, it is imperative that we use that resource wisely, sharing expertise, data and work programmes and avoiding duplication and divergence wherever possible. To be effective, coherence in risk assessment practices and communication are essential and to this end it is important that EFSA and Member States work together to harmonise our methodologies.
I would like to thank the organisers once again for the opportunity to address you and to wish this meeting every success.
Thank you for your kind attention.