The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was set up in 2002 as an independent watchdog working to avoid and address food risks (and food crises) in Europe. EFSA's goal is "to become globally recognized as the European reference body for risk assessment on food and feed safety, animal health and welfare, nutrition, plant protection and plant health."
An organization that fulfills this role effectively is vital. As the world's population expands beyond the capabilities of its natural resources, individual European Union (EU) Member States will increasingly vie with each other to shore-up food security. In the dash to prepare the environment to meet our future requirements, we desperately need rational heads independently giving judgement on food safety.
Sadly, EFSA's repeated lack of transparency and a recent report showing the business interests of senior EFSA officials suggests that in its current form EFSA is not that organization.
My organization, ClientEarth, together with Pesticides Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) has launched a case in the European Court of Justice against EFSA. We brought the case because EFSA isn't being transparent about decisions that will allow pesticides to reach the EU market without consulting evidence on safety from independent scientists. Instead, EFSA's guidance favors studies financed and carried out within the pesticides industry.
We believe that citizens have the right not to have dangerous substances on their dinner plates, so we are asking EFSA to be transparent about how these conclusions were reached to make sure that commercial interests did not influence its drafting.
ClientEarth and PAN Europe aren't the only people who've been worrying about conflicts of interest in EFSA. Just one week before we launched our case, NGO Earth Open Source released a report, "Europe's pesticide and food safety regulators--Who do they work for?," which showed that a number of EFSA advisers are closely linked to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). This body receives funding from multinational pesticide and chemicals companies. The report also mentions several cases of conflicts of interest by members of scientific panels and of the management board of the agency.
EFSA claims that openness and transparency are the basis for its actions, but it does little to prevent its officials and scientific advisers from being corrupted by the influence of the chemical companies its advice is addressed to.
What is clear is that EFSA's recent actions could lead to another Bisphenol A case. Bisphenol A forms polycarbonate plastic used in products ranging from tooth fillings to tins of tuna and, until recently, baby bottles. It is also a highly toxic chemical and endocrine disruptor that causes birth defects, prostate cancer and diabetes, impairs brain development, promotes breast cancer, and increases heart disease--among a host of other health impacts. Hundreds of independent studies testify to this, but EFSA based its opinions on Bisphenol A on just few studies prepared by industry. Only through civil society pressure did the EU finally decide to ban Bisphenol A's use in baby bottles.
Through its latest guidance, EFSA is effectively saying the same thing: no matter how many studies from independent scientists are available, decisions on pesticides used in our food will be taken on the basis of studies from the same companies that produce the chemicals.
And Europeans will continue to find dangerous substances on the dinner table...