Food Research in Support of Science-Based Regulations: Challenges for Producers and Consumers - Prague
Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Gandalovič, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to here with you today in Prague and to address such a wide range of interested parties in the food chain. I would like to thank the Minister for Agriculture and the Czech Presidency, not only for the organisation of this prestigious international event, but also for the ongoing and fruitful cooperation with EFSA.
- Science-based policy
As a science-based organisation, today’s theme of “science-based regulations” is particularly relevant to EFSA.
Independent science is and will continue to be crucially important in the regulation of food and feed. As the crises in the 90s have shown, this is the only way we can effectively protect consumers. Although it is neither a research organisation nor a legislator, EFSA plays a crucial role in the regulatory framework related to European food and feed safety. Established as the EU’s risk assessment body in 2002 to protect public health and to rebuild the trust of consumers in the European food supply, the legislators rightly identified the importance of the independence and quality of the scientific advice underpinning food law, the openness and transparency of the organization developing this advice, and the need to communicate coherently, accurately and in a timely manner. This is the basis on which we operate.
With a staff of 400 in Parma, we have built networks of more than 1200 scientific experts, 30 national food safety agencies and 370 national scientific organisations without which we could not achieve our objectives. These networks of scientific excellence across Europe and beyond have enabled us to deliver almost 500 scientific outputs in 2008, double that of 2007.
And we will need to increase this level of productivity as, with the rapid growth in mandates received – in particular from the European Commission’s DG for Health and Consumers – our outputs are predicted to exceed 1300 in 2009 and 2010. With the multidisciplinary nature of the expertise at our disposal, we are increasingly trying to address risk in an integrated manner – and to consider benefit as well as risk – in order to provide risk managers with more comprehensive overviews.
- Building blocks of credibility
In our drive to ensure that risk managers receive advice in a timely manner, it is vital for the credibility of EFSA that we continue to guarantee the quality of our work. Our quality review programme comprises 3 steps: (1) a self-evaluation process to guarantee that our risk assessments consistently follow a set of key steps; (2) an internal review process by EFSA scientists; and (3) in 2009 the process will be further strengthened by the implementation of an independent external review component. Responsiveness is another important aspect of quality and we have procedures in place for “fast tracking” which we used in 2008 in relation to, for example, melamine contamination.
Transparency is another key pillar of our credibility and we ensure that all our activities are open to scrutiny. Selection of experts is fundamental to our science, and in June 2008 we launched a database of experts to enhance transparency and improve access to expertise for both EFSA and Member States. To date, we have received more than 1400 applications from scientific experts from over 45 countries.
EFSA has a proactive policy towards its stakeholders, and especially consumers, by engaging with them in open dialogue. We have launched public consultations on many topics such as nanotechnology and cloning and more recently on transparency in risk assessment. We have also put in place an important dialogue via our Stakeholder Consultative Platform and hold regular technical hearings. We will continue to build transparency into the way we develop out scientific advice with the objective of encouraging greater confidence both in EFSA and EU food safety.
Independence is one of our core values and all members of EFSA’s Scientific Panels, Scientific Committee, Working Groups, Advisory Forum, Focal Points, Management Board, and staff are obliged to complete a detailed annual declaration of interest (DOI).
Procedures for handling DOIs were reviewed in 2007 which included revised processes for screening declarations, identifying any potential conflicts of interest and taking appropriate action. That review also recommended that all experts working for EFSA must complete a specific DOI for each meeting and mandate. A further recent update has addressed the procedures associated with omissions and breaches of policy.
- Scientific cooperation
Although EFSA is independent in its scientific advice, it is not isolated. The challenges that we collectively face in relation to, for example, innovation in food production technology, an increasingly globalised food chain, changes in consumer behaviour and perception, climate change and the identification of emerging risks can only be met through cooperation and the intelligent use and sharing of resources, data and expertise.
We rely on institutions across Europe, in particular national food safety agencies, to make their experts available for EFSA’s work and one of our priorities is to ensure that those experts are given as much support as possible to enable them to fulfil their crucial role in the European food safety system.
Guided by EFSA‘s Advisory Forum, where the 27 national food safety agencies are represented, and by our Strategy on Networking and Cooperation, EFSA has built networks of experts, organisations and national authorities and we are strengthening our cooperation agreements with third countries to ensure that we are fully engaged in global risk assessment activities.
EFSA, via Article 36 of its Founding Regulation, cooperates with national competent organisations that can assist it in its work. The public institutions that qualify for Article 36 grants carry out a variety of scientific tasks, in particular preparatory work for opinions and data collection. In addition, science-based research organisations are contracted via public procurement to carry out scientific work on EFSA’s behalf. The total amount spent on both activities will reach €7.5 million in 2009.
But I believe that we are only at the beginning of this process and that the current global economic crisis provides a timely reminder to all of us to refocus our attention on cooperation. With many demands on precious public resources it is imperative that we use that resource wisely, eliminating duplication, sharing data and expertise wherever possible.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the Czech Presidency once again for the opportunity to co-organise this prestigious event and to address you today. We will closely follow the debate and the conclusions from this important conference.
I wish this meeting every success. Thank you for your kind attention.