Independent science sidelined in food safety

Photo credit: Corporate Europe Observatory/Earth Open Source

A report published by Corporate Europe Observatory and Earth Open Source on February 14th 2012 has shown that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) panels base their advice and opinions largely on industry-sponsored studies, rather than independent science. These practices lead to guidelines and assessments that present risks to human health.

The report highlights several conflicts of interest, revealing that industry-linked figures sit on a number of EFSA’s advisory panels. In some cases EFSA has even copied wording from industry sources. In particular, EFSA’s experts are shown to have systematic links with industry lobby group International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), funded by major biotech and food corporations.

Claire Robinson from Earth Open Source states:

EFSA’s reliance on industry studies and dismissal of independent research could place public health at risk. This year EFSA gave in to a request from Monsanto to raise the residue limit for glyphosate in lentils a massive 100-150-fold. That’s nearly six times the safe the safe daily dose established by independent studies – which EFSA ignored.”

The report comes as EFSA, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is under scrutiny from the EU e.g. European Court of Auditors, MEPs, and undergoing an official evaluation by the European Commission. It also adds to widespread criticism from NGOs, scientists, other public institutions and increasingly the media, regarding the way the way EFSA deals with the safety of products such as pesticides, food additives and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Past concerns include suggestions that products such as the sweetener Aspartame, the weedkiller glyphosate, and the bisphenol A chemical used in plastics were given the green light, despite concerns raised by independent scientific studies, and the approval for the Amflora genetically modified potato.

The report calls for stronger selection criteria for experts that would ban conflicts of interest with industry and for an urgent overhaul of the EU laws that dictate how EFSA operates, including the use of industry data for safety tests. Too often independent scientists are not even able to challenge industry findings because they are considered commercially confidential information.

Further information

  • Take note of key dates in the current evaluation of EFSA at the European level:

– The European Court of Auditors’ report on EFSA is expected to come out in March

– The European Commission is planning to revise EFSA’s founding regulation in the second half of this year and in preparation has started an official evaluation of EFSA

– Eight out of 10 EFSA panels are up for renewal. Decisions will be taken at next management board meeting in mid-March. On 5 March, EFSA will publish its new implementing rules on conflicts of interest

– MEPs will discuss EFSA again on 24 March (budget committee).