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EU moves to allay public concern over food safety studies

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EU moves to allay public concern over food safety studies

Photo by Brian Robert Marshall

(STRASBOURG) -The EU Parliament and the Council reached provisional agreement Monday night on draft rules to ensure the EU risk assessment procedure for food safety is more transparent and independent.

The new rules aim to improve transparency in risk assessment and ensure that studies submitted by the industry to support applications and used by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in its risk assessment are more reliable, objective and independent.

The agreement was welcomed by the European Commission. In a statement, it said this was a "resounding response to the citizens' concerns over transparency of scientific studies in the area of food. We have heard the call, notably expressed via a European Citizens Initiative on pesticides, for greater transparency, at an early stage of the risk assessment process, on studies submitted as part of an application for an authorisation. The EU's scientific risk assessment body – the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – will also be strengthened, with a greater involvement of Member States in its Management Board".

Main elements of the agreement aim at:

  • Ensuring more transparency: Citizens will have automatic access to all studies and information submitted by industry in the risk assessment process. Stakeholders and the general public will also be consulted on submitted studies. At the same time, the agreement will guarantee confidentiality, in duly justified circumstances, by setting out the type of information that may be considered significantly harmful for commercial interests and therefore cannot be disclosed.
  • Increasing the independence of studies: The European Food Safety Authority will be notified of all commissioned studies to guarantee that companies applying for authorisations submit all relevant information and do not hold back unfavourable studies. The Authority will also provide general advice to applicants, in particular SMEs, prior to the submission of the dossier. Commission may ask the Authority to commission additional studies for verification purposes and may perform fact-finding missions to verify the compliance of laboratories/studies with standards.
  • Strengthening the governance and the scientific cooperation: Member States, civil society and European Parliament will be involved in the governance of the Authority by being duly represented in its Management Board. Member States will foster the Authority's scientific capacity and engage the best independent experts into its work.
  • Developing comprehensive risk communication: A general plan for risk communication will be adopted and will ensure a coherent risk communication strategy throughout the risk analysis process, combined with open dialogue amongst all interested parties.

The proposal is a follow-up to the European Citizens' Initiative on glyphosate, especially to concerns expressed in the initiative regarding the transparency of the scientific studies used to evaluate pesticides. It also follows a fitness check of the General Food Law, launched in 2014 and completed in January 2018 by the Commission.

The informal agreement now needs to be endorsed by Parliament and Council of Ministers. The Parliament's Environment Committee will hold a vote on 20 February.

Proposal on transparency and sustainability of the EU risk 
assessment model in the food chain - background guide

Procedure, European Parliament

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