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Food Safety

Scientific Committees

Future of Scientific Advice

Mandate

Since April 1997 clear guarantees have been given to citizens that the scientific opinions, upon which Community legislation on food safety and consumers' health protection are based, meet criteria of excellence, independence and transparency. All the interested parties (Member States, Parliament, consumers and industry) largely approved these principles. Moreover, it has been recognised that the present system of scientific advice and in particular the role of the SSC represents an important improvement compared to the situation before the BSE crisis.

Nevertheless, a review of the working methods of the scientific committees has been asked for by the EP. In addition, the organisational arrangements have been the subject of reflections as to whether an independent agency type structure could lead to further improvements in scientific advice at the EC level. In any case, the present committee composition will have to be renewed before October 2000.

It is therefore necessary and appropriate to prepare the ground for possible improvements in the EC system of scientific advice. This should be done in the light of :

- experience with the functioning of the scientific committees since autumn 1997;

- the new organisational set-up of scientific advice developed recently in some Member States, in particular the UK and France, in international organisations, eg JECFA, and, more generally, Member States systems of scientific advice;

- the growing international importance of consumer health related issues;

- the need for consistent, internationally acceptable risk assessment methodologies.

Basic material on these aspects will be provided by the Commission services.

The first task of the experts is to reflect on the purposes of the EC scientific advice system. Normally, scientific advice will be used as input for risk management decisions that directly affect consumers and industry. Consequently, at least a triangle of interests will be served by scientific advice:

- it should meet the needs of the authorities responsible for risk management, i.e. in particular the Commission, the EP and the Member States;

- it should be geared to the objective of consumer health protection and as such confidence-building for European Consumers;

- it should take account of the interests of industry for efficient and reliable procedures.

It is clear from this that no system of scientific advice could ever claim to be "optimal" in view of these three often divergent basic interests. The experts are therefore asked to analyse the different purposes of scientific advice and their potential lines of conflict, in order to provide a framework against which changes in the generation and organisation of scientific advice can be judged.

As a second task, the generation of scientific advice should be examined and options and recommendations for improvement developed. Quality standards should be identified for all stages in the generation of scientific advice:

- the mandates for the scientific Committees or their equivalent;

- the criteria for selecting/recruiting the persons generating scientific advice (incl. the secretariats);

- the origin of the demand for scientific advice in particular the role of the scientific committees in initiating reviews of policy sensitive issues;

- the scientific methodologies applied for risk assessment;

- the modes and sources of generating advice: basic material, draft opinion, finalisation of opinion, peer review;

- openness and transparency of the process and its results.

In the light of the options and recommendations for improving the generation of scientific advice, the third task consists in presenting options and recommendations for the organisation of scientific advice. A number of issues should be examined in this context:

- the number, composition and structure of scientific committees and remuneration of their members;

- the relationship between committee members, expert group members and the committee secretariats;

- the linkages between scientific advice and scientific research, in particular the research financed by the EC budget (JRC, DG XII etc);

- the potential for synergies between national scientific advice systems and the Community one;

- the need for a structured information policy related to the generation of scientific advice towards journalists, consumers, industry, Member States etc.;

- the desirability to charge fees, e.g. for product authorisations and its potential impact on the independence of scientific advice.

Finally, the crucial issue of the most appropriate place for scientific advice should be addressed, in particular with reference to the necessary degree of independence and to the relationship to the Community institutions. Different options have already been advanced: as now, a directorate in a DG (but which one would be the most appropriate), an independent Commission service, an interinstitutional office, an independent agency. The advantages and drawbacks of these options should be examined and a recommendation should be made.

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

 
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