As a follow up of the positive evaluation of the Focal Point work, all Member States, as well as Norway, have prolonged their Focal Point Agreements in 2011, while Iceland signed its first Agreement with EFSA. In addition to these countries, the four EU Candidate Countries - Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey - have actively participated in the activities and meetings of the Focal Point network as observers.
Over 2011, Focal Points continued to collect and share information amongst themselves and with EFSA on a variety of issues on risk assessment or data collection. A total of 144 requests for assistance and input have been sent to Focal Points in 2011, either from EFSA (via the Advisory Forum and Scientific Cooperation Unit), or from other Focal Points. While certain specific requests have supported the work of EFSA’s Scientific Committee, Scientific Panels and Units, other requests supported Member States on their scientific research and risk assessments activities. The number of requests sent by Focal Points, for information, to other Focal Points has increased from 32 in 2010 to 63 in 2011, demonstrating the consolidation of the Focal Point network. On the other hand, the number of requests sent directly by EFSA to Focal Points has slightly decreased from 95 in 2010 to 81 in 2011, suggesting the efficient targeting of these requests to EFSA’s dedicated scientific networks. Approximately two thirds of Focal Points have also shared planned work and activities with other Member States and EFSA, so as to contribute to a more coordinated planning of risk assessment and data collection activities in the EU, avoiding duplication of work.
At the end of 2011, the Information Exchange Platform contained over 1052 documents uploaded by Member States and EEA/EFTA countries. These included risk assessment outputs and mandates, country profiles related to EFSA’s remit, quality and crisis manuals, and annual and strategic work plans. As a general recommendation, Focal Points should continue to actively collate and upload information on risk assessment onto the Information Exchange Platform. Furthermore, efforts should continue to be made to upload documents from all/other official risk assessment bodies in the area of food and feed safety, animal health and plant health.
Regarding Article 36 cooperation, Focal Points have further strengthened their networks with additional Article 36 organisations. They have also encouraged Article 36 organisations to apply for the 8 calls for proposals published during the course of the year. Use of the two Article 36 IT tools was facilitated, thereby fostering active networking between and amongst Article 36 organisations, Focal Points and EFSA. Focal Points have also supported EFSA in ensuring that the Article 36 List was kept up-to-date and functional, in terms of contact details and organizational changes impacting at national level on Article 36 organisations.
The number of scientific experts applying to EFSA’s Expert Database has continued to grow, reaching a total of 3559 submitted applications by end of 2011. Focal Points played an important role in this growth by presenting, distributing or publishing information, as well as directly encouraging scientists to apply to EFSA’s Expert Database. Focal Points have also used and promoted the Expert Database as a source of scientific expertise available for use at national level.
Focal Points have continued to raise awareness, understanding and outreach of EFSA’s and of the Focal Point work by disseminating information through an increasing number of communication channels, newly developed communication tools, as well as via extended and targeted networks within Member States. These activities have often resulted from a strong collaboration between Focal Points and the respective Advisory Forum Communications Working Group representatives at national level.
In 2011, 23 Focal Points have organised 44 events in their countries, which ranged from small targeted national seminars to international conferences. Representatives from EFSA’s Scientific Directorates have also presented EFSA’s work and cooperation activities in different types of events as per invitation of Focal Points. Furthermore, 28 Focal Points contributed to national and international events with over 115 presentations, posters and written contributions. All of these activities raised the visibility of the Focal Point network and of EFSA’s work.
To further consolidate the scientific cooperation between Member States and EFSA, the following priorities are proposed for Focal Points in 2012:
- to continue the exchange of scientific information/data on key topics at EU level, namely by actively collating and uploading information on risk assessments onto the Information Exchange Platform from all official risk assessment bodies operating within EFSA’s remit;
- to maintain the Article 36 List of competent organisations, ensuring it is kept fit for purpose, as well as stimulate Article 36 organisations to apply for Article 36 calls and foster the networking between Article 36 organisations via the available IT tools (Article 36 Database, Article 36-NET);
- to continue the promotion of EFSA’s database of external scientific experts, contributing to its steady growth, and stimulate the use of the respective search tool at national level;
- to further extend national networks in cooperation with the Advisory Forum Communications Working Group (AFCWG) Member, allowing for a wider audience when disseminating information;
- to maintain and further develop Focal Point websites as a central communication tool on food safety in Member States;
- to continue the organisation of national scientific events, considering namely the 10th anniversary of the General Food Law;
- to actively promote training on risk assessment by liaising directly with the national BTSF contact point.