EFSA accused of conflicts of interest

Four board members at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have close links with the food industry, creating a potential conflict of interests, according to new research by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) published today [1].

CEO warns that the links could compromise the independence of the agency which is responsible for assessing the safety of food in the European Union – including controversial genetically modified food and feed and pesticides.

The new research reveals that board member Milan Kováč is a director of the International Life Sciences Institute Europe (ILSI Europe) – an industry-funded body which promotes the understanding of science from an industry perspective; and also a member of the scientific advisory board of the food industry-sponsored think tank, the European Food Information Council (EUFIC).

Board member Matthias Horst is the director general of the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries, representing big food interests including Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Kraft, Mars and Unilever.

Jiří Ruprich, another board member, is  a member of the scientific committee at the Czech Danone Institute – a not-for-profit body funded by French food giant Danone that promotes “nutritional research” to health and education professionals.

Board member, Piet Vanthemsche is a leading member of COPA, the European Farmer’s union and voice of industrial agriculture, and also holds an executive position with an Agri Investment Fund, with interests in the meat industry and GM animal feed, the report reveals.

As board members, all four are responsible for estabishing EFSA’s budget, work programmes and appointing the excecutive director and experts who give scientific advice.

Corporate Europe Observatory research coordinator Olivier Hoedeman said: “These corporate links raise very serious questions about EFSA’s independence. These EFSA board members face very real conflict of interests. How can they be trusted to act in the public interest in running an independent food safety regime when they have such close links to the food industry – and are sometimes paid to promote the very same products the Agency is supposed to assess?”

The latest allegations come after the director of EFSA, Diana Bánáti was called on to resign from EFSA because of concerns over a conflict of interests related to her work with the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). She stepped down from the board of ILSI as a result in October 2010 [2].

Corporate Europe Observatory is calling for a change to EFSA's founding regulation which appears to create a situation where board members are allowed to hold blatant conflicts of interest. CEO believes the European Commission must revise the regulations and introduce strict ethics rules and procedures to avoid conflicts of interests for EFSA’s board members, employees and external experts.

Contact: Olivier Hoedeman, Tel. +32 (0)2 893 0930, Mobile: +32 474 486545, email: olivier@corporateeurope.org

[1] Serial conflicts of interest on European Food Safety Authority’s management board, Corporate Europe Observatory, 23 February 2011.
[2] EFSA Management Board statement, 21 October 2010.

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