EFSA reinforces independence policy

EFSA has a robust, well-balanced independence policy, its Management Board said today after approving a number of new measures to further strengthen the Authority’s impartiality and protection against improper influence.

Jaana Husu-Kallio, Chair of the Board, said: “The policy we agreed today is the result of months of debate and consultation. We thank our stakeholders and the public for their important suggestions, which were considered with great care. The system already in place was robust and effective and we have further strengthened it.

“Independence is not black and white – we have to strike a balance between attracting experts and securing ourselves against undue influence. Some people might think we have gone too far or could have gone further, but I am confident that we have got the balance right.”

She added: “The next challenge is to implement the policy, to turn the words into action. We will do this by the end of 2017 so that the new rules can be used in the renewal process for our scientific panels, which begin new terms in 2018.”

EFSA’s existing range of safeguards rests on a comprehensive system for avoiding conflicts of interest among its external scientific experts. These measures include:

  • A multi-layered scrutiny system of annual declarations of interest (ADoIs), specific declarations of interest (SDoIs) and oral declarations of interest (ODoIs). ADoIs are submitted by all members of EFSA’s Scientific Committee, Scientific Panels and Working Groups.
  • All DoIs are screened to identify potential conflicts related to an expert’s professional activities and financial interests.
  • A range of options is available to resolve conflicts e.g. the expert may be considered ineligible for membership or chairmanship of a panel, or can be asked to relinquish a position, or shares in a company.
  • Compliance checks are performed on a sample of DoIs twice a year by staff members not involved in the assessment and validation process.
  • Regular external audits are carried out by the European Court of Auditors, the Internal Audit Service of the European Commission, and external contractors.

The revised policy now includes:

  • A new definition of what constitutes a conflict of interest, which brings EFSA into line with the most recent rules adopted by the European Commission for its expert committees.
  • A comprehensive set of “cooling-off” rules: external experts will be automatically barred from joining EFSA’s scientific panels if in the preceding two years they have been employed by, acted as consultants to, or have offered scientific advice to organisations that work in areas covered by EFSA’s remit. The cooling-off rules also apply to experts who have received research funding from such organisations over the same period.
  • A requirement that experts declare the proportion of their annual earnings received from any organisation, body or company whose activities fall within EFSA’s areas of work. This information will be published and used as part of the DoI assessment.
  • Publication of the list of EFSA’s partner organisations, such as national and international authorities, universities or research institutes.
  • Member State experts who take part in peer review meetings to be subject to the same scrutiny and transparency measures as panel experts.

Bernhard Url, EFSA’s Executive Director, said: “I am pleased that our governing body has equipped us with such a strong set of measures. EFSA’s scientific advice has little value unless it is trusted, and the public will grant us that trust only if they can see that we are independent.”

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