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Health and Consumer Protection

Press releases

Brussels, 28 June 2001

European Food Authority: Questions and Answers

What will be the tasks of the European Food Authority?

As set out in the Commission proposal for a Regulation laying down fundamental principles and requirements of food law and establishing a European Food Authority (EFA), the core task of the Authority will be to provide independent scientific advice and support and to set up a network for close co-operation with similar bodies in Member States. It will assess risks related to the food chain and give the general public information about food risks.

The EFA will have six main tasks:

(1) provide independent scientific advice on food safety issues and other related matters such as , animal health/welfare, plant health, GMOs and nutrition at the request of the Commission, the European Parliament (EP) and the Member States as a basis for risk management decisions;

(2) advice on technical food issues to underpin policy development and legislation related to the food chain;

(3) collection and analysis of data on dietary, exposure and other information relevant to any potential risks necessary to monitor safety along the food chain in the EU;

(4) identification and early warning of emerging risks;

(5) support to the Commission in case of crisis;

(6) communication to the general public on all matters within its mandate.

When will the Regulation setting up the EFA be adopted and the Authority become operational?

The Commission presented its proposal for a Regulation on General Food law and establishing a European Food Authority on November 8 last year, to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers in co-decision procedure. The European Parliament adopted its report on June 12 with more than 200 amendments of which about half were accepted by the Commission. The Council has reached agreement today and is expected to formally adopt a Common Position early on under the Belgian Presidency. A second reading of the draft regulation in European Parliament and Council will then follow, before final adoption can take place. A political decision on the seat is foreseen before the end of the year.

The Nice European summit of December 2000 has clearly expressed the view that the EFA should be operational by early 2002. The Commission is doing everything possible to ensure that the Authority is legally set up before that date, and that key operations can start as early as possible in 2002.

What is the legal status of the EFA?

The Authority will be a separate legal entity, independent from the other Community institutions.

The responsibility for risk management decisions and control remains with the politically responsible institutions as established in the Treaty.

What is the scope of the EFA work?

Its mandate is broad, so that it can take a comprehensive view of the food chain and provide a coherent scientific basis for policy and legislation. Therefore the EFA will cover all issues having a direct or indirect impact on the safety of food including animal health and welfare, plant health. It covers also scientific issues related to nutrition.

It will also provide scientific opinions on any issue related to genetically modified organisms for reason of scientific coherence.

What is the organisational set-up of the EFA?

The European Food Authority is composed of four bodies: a Management Board, an Executive Director an Advisory Forum and a co-ordinating scientific committee and eight scientific panels.

Management Board

The Council after extended discussions found agreement on the composition of the EFA Management Board and the process for nomination of its members. The Council wants it to be composed of 16 members appointed by the Council after consultation of the European Parliament. In this scenario, the Commission would draw up a list of a substantially larger number of suitable candidates for the Board. At least four of the sixteen would have a background in consumer organisations and other interest groups in the food chain. The Commission would have one representative on the EFA Management Board. The Council establishes as an objective that the choice of board members ought to secure the highest standards of competence and the broadest possible geographic distribution within the European Union. The Commission has proposed 4 representatives of Council, 4 representatives of the Parliament, 4 representatives of the Commission and 4 representatives of consumer organisations and other stakeholders. It considers that, particularly in the light of the position taken by the European Parliament in favour of a board composition based on the highest standards of competence, procedures need to be specified that will provide practical means for ensuring the professional excellence of board members. It also considers that further reflection on this matter should lead to an acceptable convergence of the views of the different institutions in the subsequent stages of the legislative process.

Advisory Forum

The Executive Director will be assisted by an Advisory Forum, composed of fifteen representatives, one per Member State, from bodies in the Member States undertaking similar tasks to those of EFA, such as national agencies performing risk assessments in the food sector. The close involvement of these national bodies is essential for example to ensure an efficient networking with national scientific organisations as a mechanism for an exchange of information on potential risks and for pooling knowledge.

Scientific Panels

The Scientific Panels will be composed of independent scientific experts selected following an open call for expressions of interest and appointed by the Management Board. The following panels will be established:

- panel on food additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food;

- panel on additives and products or substances used in animal feed;

- panel on plant health, plant protection products and their residues;

- panel on genetically modified organisms;

- panel on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies;

- panel on biological hazards (including TSE/BSE issues);

- panel on contaminants in the food chain;

- panel on animal health and welfare.

A Scientific Committee will be responsible for the general co-ordination necessary to ensure the consistency in the scientific opinions of the different panels. This Committee will be composed of the chairpersons of the scientific panels and six independent experts who do not belong to any panel.

Personnel and budget

The EFA will be funded from the Community budget and, when fully operational, would dispose of substantial in-house scientific expertise. The Authority will employ up to 250 people after three years, with a budget of €40 million. This will be reviewed after 3 years.

While the EFA will initially be entirely funded from the Community budget, the proposal allows for a review of this situation within three initial years of operation.

What is the role of the EFA and of the Advisory Forum in case of conflicting scientific opinions?

The European Food Authority will have the explicit task to watch out for and identify any potential source of conflict between its scientific opinions and the scientific opinions issued by other bodies carrying out similar tasks. In case the EFA identifies potentially conflicting scientific views involving its own advice and other Community bodies, it shall ensure that all relevant scientific information is shared between those concerned. If such conflicting scientific positions involve a national scientific body, the EFA and this body shall co-operate and the EFA's Advisory Forum shall be consulted.

In both cases, the aim is to either resolve the conflict or to present a joint document clarifying the contentious scientific issues thereby enabling the risk managers to adopt the most appropriate measures in the light of all information available.

How will the independence of the EFA be ensured?

EFA is an independent body with an autonomous right to create its own organisation and to communicate. Members of the Management Board, the Advisory Forum and scientists on the panels shall act independently. For this purpose they will make a declaration of commitment and a declaration of interests annually in writing. At each meeting they will declare any special interest which might be considered prejudicial to their independence in relation to the items on the agenda.

What can the EFA do to prevent the food crises of the past?

The Authority will have a clear pro-active role in collection and analysis of scientific and other relevant types of data, allowing for identification and early warning of emerging risks in the food chain.

Will the EFA communicate its position directly to the public?

The Authority will communicate actively with the public about its activities and their results. The information will be objective, reliable and easily understandable for the general public.

Will the transparency rules of the current scientific committees also apply to the EFA?

The opinions of the Scientific Committee and the scientific panels, including minority opinions, shall be made public. The same goes for the annual declarations of interest and the declarations of interest made in relation to items on the agendas of meetings and the results of scientific work. Results of EFA scientific studies and its annual report will also be made public.

The Management Board can decide to hold some of its meetings in public and may invite consumer representatives or other interested parties to observe some of the EFA´s activities. The EFA shall also ensure wide access to documents in its possession.

What will be the EFA's role in crisis management?

The European Commission remains responsible for proposing risk management measures to the European Parliament and Council, and for deciding emergency measures. Risk management measures may include marketing bans, restrictions or specific conditions for the marketing of food or feed. The Commission may under the new rules proposed in the regulation adopt emergency measures relative to any food or feed, in case of a serious risk. As soon as possible and at most within 10 working days such measures are to be reviewed by a newly created Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. The existing Standing Committees dealing with food safety, feed, animal health and the plant health issue linked to food/feed safety will be merged.

In addition to its task of identification of emerging risks, the Authority will assist as necessary in crisis management. In case of a crisis, the Commission would immediately set up a crisis unit, involving the Authority for necessary scientific and technical advice. The crisis unit would collect and evaluate all relevant information and identify options to prevent, reduce or eliminate the risk effectively and rapidly. The crisis unit would equally be in charge of measures to inform the public in times of crises.

The EFA will also be a member of the Rapid Alert System that will remain managed by the Commission. This new system will cover food and now animal feed. Any information on a serious direct or indirect risk to human health deriving from food or feed must be notified via the competent national authorities to the rapid alert. The same goes for all measures taken to restrict the marketing of a product, whether of EU origin or imported. All notifications are immediately forwarded by the Commission to the other members of the Rapid Alert Network: the Member States and the Authority. The Authority may supplement the notification on the existence of a risk with any scientific and technical information which will facilitate rapid, appropriate risk management action by the Member States.

Background

The White Paper on Food Safety of January 2001 sets out to modernise legislation and to produce a coherent and transparent set of rules, reinforcing controls from the farm to the table and increasing the capability of the EU scientific advice system. Public consultations on the White paper and reactions of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers confirmed that the creation of a Food Authority with scientific and technical competence is generally regarded as the most effective way to address the growing need for a solidly science-based policy and to increase consumer confidence.

Fundamental changes in the organisation of scientific advice on which Community legislation is based were first introduced in 1997, in response to the BSE crisis. In a Decision of October 1997 the Commission set up a Scientific Steering Committee and eight specialised scientific committees. At the same occasion, the principles of independence, excellence and transparency were set out as the basic operating rules for the functioning of these committees.

Practical experience acquired in the work of the committees over the past years has demonstrated a lack of capacity in the current system which has led to serious delays in both the delivery of advice required for decisions to manage risks to consumer health and for the authorisation of products, processes and substances under EU legislation. The lack of in-house scientific expertise to undertake preparatory work for the actual risk assessment task of the committee's members was identified in the White Paper on Food Safety as a hindrance to the delivery of rapid and effective advice.

Released on 28/06/2001

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FOOD SAFETY | PUBLIC HEALTH | CONSUMER PROTECTION | DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH & CONSUMER PROTECTION"

 
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