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French health & environment question EFSA BPA decision

A new report, "Conflicts on the menu", questions EFSA’s reliance on industry data and highlights conflicts of interest with industry-linked scientists. It was prepared by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and Earth Open Source (EOS) on EFSA’s 10th Anniversary with support from HEAL members, Reseau Environnement Santé (RES) and Générations Futures (GF).

CEO and EOS aim to engage more people and organisations in the push for change at EFSA and to reverse its current pro-industry bias. The report explains how EFSA works, which scientific sources are (not) used, how conflicts of interest occur and how industry influences the agency’s work. The report contributes to the debate on which changes are needed in the interest of food safety, public health and the environment.

CEO and EOS show how too often it’s not independent science that underlies EFSA decisions about our food safety, but industry data. EFSA panels base their scientific opinions on risky products, like pesticides and GMOs, largely on industry-sponsored studies. The report claims that EFSA has often been found to ignore independent research for unscientific reasons. The agency has issued controversial guidelines for the assessment of pesticides and GMOs that benefit industry, not the public interest.

Many EFSA panel members have ties with biotech, food or pesticide companies which can lead to conflicts of interest. Food industry lobby groups are even represented on the EFSA management board by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). This scientific institute, funded for two-thirds by companies like Coca-Cola, Danone, Nestlé and Unilever, claims to build a bridge between governments, corporations and science.

The report concludes that these factors have deeply undermined EFSA as a credible voice working in the public interest. EFSA’s problems are deeply embedded in EU laws and in the way the agency was set up. EU laws dictate that industry ‘science’ forms the basis of safety assessments of new risky products. According to EFSA and EU Commissioner John Dalli, it is “not realistic” to demand that the scientists that oversee our food safety are both highly qualified and independent. While the accuracy of these statements is unproven, there is clearly an urgent need to redirect research funding to public institutions and on public interest topics like food safety.

According to CEO and EOS urgent changes must be implemented at EFSA and at an EU level to ensure that EFSA fulfills its intended role of providing unbiased and up-to-date scientific advice to protect public health. Independent peer-reviewed studies, ending collaboration with industry and industry-affiliated bodies, ensuring transparency, new rules on conflict of interest and granting EFSA the budget to pay its experts for their assessment work are a few of the measures CEO and EOS suggest. Until such changes are implemented, EFSA and the EU institutions cannot claim to provide a sufficient level of food and environmental safety.

In a reaction on the report, the EU newsportal Chemical Watch stated that this is not the first time NGOs have questioned EFSA’s independence. Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN-Europe) another HEAL member expressed concerns in their latest report A Toxic Mixture? about the impacts of EFSA endorsing the concept of “Threshold for Toxicological Concern” (TTC).

Full study (35 pages): http://www.corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/publications/Conflicts_%20on_the_menu_final_0.pdf

Video animation: http://vimeo.com/33337236

Originally posted on 8 March 2012

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