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Food safety panel members "update" declarations of interest – admitting industry ties

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Brussels, 4 July 2011 – Four members of a key European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) scientific panel have "updated" their declarations of interests following a Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) report revealing undeclared conflicts of interest [1].
John Christian Larsen (Denmark), Jürgen König (Austria), Gerrit Speijers (Netherlands), and Iona Pratt (Ireland) – all members of the EFSA panel on food additives and nutrient sources (ANS) which deals with additives such as aspartame – have updated their declarations of interest to include work done for the food industry-funded think tank and lobby group, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI Europe).
According to EFSA rules, failure to disclose "advice or services in a particular field falling within EFSA's remit" -- even if unpaid -- is considered as a "prima facie breach of trust" towards the agency and it could lead to the experts' dismissal.
In a letter sent to EFSA's Executive Director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, CEO is calling on EFSA to carry out an investigation as to whether the failure to declare these activities is a "breach of trust" [2]. Detailed conclusions of this investigation should be made public so that EU citizens could understand the very reasons why EFSA thinks or does not think that some of its experts have breached its trust.
According to EFSA’s Guidance on declarations of interest [3], the agency should carry out investigations into the four cases because (a) the information missing was a “declarable interest”; and (b) the experts “did not declare the missing information intentionally or through gross negligence”.
In an e-mail to CEO last month, the rapporteur of the ANS panel, Gerrit Speijers, said that “it was recently made clear by instruction from EFSA that [collaborations with ILSI] should be included in our declaration of interests” [4].
CEO says that the situation reveals the inadequacy of EFSA's measures to prevent conflicts of interest. CEO campaigner Nina Holland said:
“EFSA must now carry out an internal investigation to establish what members of the ANS panel have breached trust by failing to declare work for ILSI Europe. Key figures on the panel had close ties to industry, raising concerns about conflicts of interest. EFSA must clean up its ways of working and end its dependence on industry expertise. Strict conflict of interest rules are required to ensure the agency serves the public interest and provides independent food safety advice."
ILSI Europe describes itself as “a key partner for European industry” that provides funding to “build science in regulatory areas” [5] -- i.e. to work on risk assessment standards and procedures for food and chemicals. ILSI funders include Nestlé, Unilever, Kraft Foods, Danone, Mars, Coca-Cola, and Mc Donald’s [6].
Following publication of the report, EFSA responded to CEO, arguing the EFSA scientists needed industry experience [7]. CEO has responded to these arguments in its letter to EFSA's Executive Director and says the agency's response leaves many questions unanswered.
EFSA has failed to comment on the inadequacy of its systems. In its report, CEO highlighted that EFSA’s rules and procedures were far weaker than the new rules that will be introduced at the European Medicines Agency later in autumn. Under such rules, four of EFSA's ANS panel experts (Rietjens, Speijers, Koenig and Grilli) would be disqualified from sitting on the panel.
CEO is calling for stricter rules on conflicts of interest at EFSA that outlaw consultancy and advisory work on a paid or unpaid basis for food companies, food industry associations, and think tanks funded by the food industry.

Contact

Nina Holland (English, Dutch, French): Mobile: +31 (0)6 30 28 50 42, email: [url=mailto:nina@corporateeurope.org]nina@corporateeurope.org[/url]

[b]Notes[/b]

[1] “Exposed: conflicts of interest among EFSA’s experts on food additives”, Corporate Europe Observatory, 15 June 2011. [url=http://www.corporateeurope.org/lobbycracy/content/2011/06/conflicts-inte...
[2] CEO letter to Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, Corporate Europe Observatory, 1 July 2011. [url=http://www.corporateeurope.org/agribusiness/content/2011/07/responding-e...
[3] Guidance document on declarations of interest, EFSA, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, 8 September 2009, page 7. [url=http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/keydocs/docs/doiguidance.pdf]http://www.efs...
[4] E-mail from Gerrit Speijers to CEO, 10 June 2011. The full quote is: “In its statutes ILSI states that it is not a lobby organisation, therefore I did not consider my participation was a conflicting interest. Actually that is still my opinion, but it was recently made clear by instruction from EFSA that this should be included in our declaration of interests”.
[5] ILSI Europe Membership, ILSI website. [url=http://www.ilsi.org/Europe/Pages/Membership.aspx]http://www.ilsi.org/Eur...
[6] Current ILSI Europe Members, ILSI website. [url=http://www.ilsi.org/Europe/Pages/currentmembers.aspx]http://www.ilsi.org...
[7] Ms. Geslain-Lanéelle’s letter to CEO, 24 June 2011. [url=http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/edinterviews/docs/corporateceo110624.pdf]ht...

 

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