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Conflicts of interest still evident on new ESFA expert panels

Corporate Europe Observatory – Earth Open Source – Pesticide Action Network

Press release

Brussels, 26 June 2012

An initial analysis of the new expert panels released by the European Food Safety Authority, published 25 June, raises questions about the effectiveness of EFSA’s new rules on conflicts of interest. These experts will take up their function from 1 July 2012 for a three-year term.

Corporate Europe Observatory, Earth Open Source and Pesticide Action Network examined the Declarations of Interest (DOIs)[1] of four of the eight new EFSA expert panels, as well as the Scientific Committee of EFSA[2].

In March 2012 EFSA introduced new rules on conflicts of interest[3] which should apply to the new panels. But a first look at the Declarations of Interest shows that while some members with conflicts are no longer on the panels, the new rules do not appear to ban all conflicts of interest.

  • Some experts whose membership of EFSA panels has been previously criticised for having conflicts of interest with industry are still members of an EFSA panel or of the scientific committee.[4] They have made changes in their activities or role in the panel in order to meet the new rules but this does not rule out conflicts of interest. Some of those who have been criticised do not appear on the new list.[5]
  • Some experts who have previously been actively involved in ILSI (the industry-funded group, the International Life Sciences Institute) activities, and who remain on EFSA panels, have given up their involvement with ILSI as of March or April 2012.[6] However, various other panel members remain active with ILSI (see Annex, point 1). Some of these ILSI involvements are clearly related to issues covered by the panel that the experts are on. Some still have not declared ILSI activities in their DOIs (see below).
  • Many panel members receive research funding from industry (see Annex, point 3) while being on an EFSA panel. This is allowed under the new rules up to a maximum of 25% of their research budget. This is problematic since this still poses a clear conflict of interest. The amount of research funding received from industry is not being disclosed, something that EFSA should demand from panel members. In some cases, the forms indicate that research funding was obtained from ‘private’ or ‘industry’ sources, without giving the names of companies.
  • Various panel members still do consultancy work for companies in the food industry (see Annex, point 4). How much they are paid is not disclosed. Given the potential conflicts of interest (panels could ask for more research, which could be done by themselves), panel members should not be allowed to be involved in EFSA-sponsored research and studies.
  • Some panel members have failed to declare their interests correctly and completely in their Declarations of Interest (DOIs). For instance, Ettore Capri (PPR panel) and Roland Franz (CEF panel) do not declare their active involvement with ILSI.[7] Patrick du Jardin does not mention his membership of the Public Research Regulation Initiative (PRRI), a partly industry-financed lobby group that published a paper arguing against national bans placed by certain EU member states on the cultivation of GMOs.[8]

Nina Holland of Corporate Europe Observatory said: “This first screening of the new panels suggests that while improvements have been made, the current rules still leave considerable space for panel members to retain close industry affiliations. The new rules should be further strengthened to effectively ban industry influence. The EFSA founding regulation must also be revised to this end.”

For more information:

  • Nina Holland, Corporate Europe Observatory, tel: 0031 6 30285042
  • Hans Muilerman, Pesticide Action Network, tel: 0031 6 55807255
  • Claire Robinson, Earth Open Source, tel 00 44 752 753 6923

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Annex

1. Continuing activities with ILSI

EFSA previously indicated that ILSI activities would be qualified according to their nature. While membership of ILSI’s management or board of trustees would not be allowed, for other types of activities it was said that they would be banned only if the activity concerns an issue dealt with by this specific panel.

CONTAM (panel on contaminants in the food chain): Peter Farmer (Member of the Biomonitoring Technical Committee ILSI/HESI), Henk van Loveren (expert/advisor to the ILSI Expert Group on Markers for Immuno-modulation)

NDA (panel on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies): Susan Fairweather-Tait (Participation in EURRECA/WHO workshop on Deriving Micronutrient Recommendations" hosted by the European Commission, 18-19 April, 2012), Ambroise Martin, Inge Tetens (Member of expert group on mapping low intakes of micronutrients), Hans Verhagen (ILSI coordinated EU-sponsored project BRAFO, participant of workshops and lecturing at public scientific meetings. http://www.eufic.org/article/en/artid/Benefits-Risks-Food-BRAFO/

PPR (pesticides panel): Ettori Capri, who is on the ILSI Environmental and Health Task Force. He does not declare this in his DOI.

2. Present and past research funding from industry

The new rules allow present research funding from industry up to 25% of the research budget managed by the expert. In the past, any research funding is allowed.

CONTAM: Ivonne Rietjens (Nestle, BASF, International Flavour Organisation), Dieter Schrenk (‘private’)

PPR: Theo Brock  (via employer Alterra, linked to Wageningen university, interpretes toxicity data for companies including Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto; also involved in research project funded by CEFIC, the European chemical industry lobby)

Daniel Pickford received industry funding from Syngenta till 2009.

NDA: Marina Heinonen (Valio, Mildola, Raisio), SIANI Alfonso (Italian Agrofood Industry), Anders Mikael Sjodin (Arla Foods), Inge Tetens (Arla Foods, Lantmannen, the Danish Dairy Research Foundation), John Joseph Strain (Nestle), Dominique Turck (Danone and Nestlé)

3. Present and past employment or consultancy work for industry

Present and past employment is not allowed for panel members according to the new rules, “when the expert has a potential conflicts of interest of a general nature that would regularly lead to [their] exclusion … from the meetings of the scientific group”, in cases when the interest ended within the past two years.

CONTAM: Bruce Cottrill (ADAS UK, consultancy, providing advice on animal feed issues), Carlo Nebbia (CONAD, retail consortium).

NDA: Carlos Agostini (Ferrero Italy), Anders Mikael Sjodin (programme for self-regulation of health claims by industry, administrated by the Swedish Nutrition Foundation (SNF) and jointly financed by the Swedish Food Federation and Swedish Food Retailers Federation).

PPR: Robert Smith (consultancy industry), Paulo Sousa, (diverse industry consultancies), Thomas Kuhl (consultancy for Bayer), Ryszard Laskowski (EU project with BASF/Syngenta).

GMO panel member Huw Jones’ institute Rothamsted Research has signed a research agreement with Dow Agrosciences, even though the institute does not receive funding from Dow, according to his DOI.

Notes

1.   http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/panels.htm

2.    All names can be found here: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/panels/docs/listpanelmembers1215.pdf

3.    http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/keydocs/docs/independencerules.pdf

4.    Including Josef Schlatter <http://www.pan-europe.info/Resources/Reports/PANE%20-%202011%20-%20A%20T... , Ivonne Rietjens. <http://www.corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/publications/EFSA_ANS... Schlatter for instance has laid down his many active involvements in ILSI per April 2012. Rietjens has moved from being chair of the ANS panel, to being a normal member on the CONTAM panel.

5.    For instance, Alan Boobis, Susan Barlow, John Christian Larsen, Ada Knaap, Harry Kuiper. See for more information PAN’s report “A Toxic Mixture?” <http://www.pan-europe.info/Resources/Reports/PANE%20-%202011%20-%20A%20T... and Testbiotech’s complaint to the Ombudsman <http://www.testbiotech.de/sites/default/files/Testbiotech%20complaint%20... on Kuiper.

6.    Experts that have ceased particular activities with ILSI as from March or April 2012 include:

Scientific Committee: Josef Schlatter and Mohammad Chaudry

7.    Capri: see previous footnote. Franz: http://www.ilsi.org/europe/pages/tf_packagingmaterials.aspx

8.   http://www.prri.net/portfolio-items/briefing-paper-eu-gmo-policies-susta...

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