The European Commission has defended its decision to nominate four food industry experts to EFSA’s managing board, saying that EFSA’s founding regulation states four out of the 14 board members should represent “consumers and other interests in the food chain”.
The Commission’s defence comes after watchdog organisation Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) criticised the decision to shortlist a candidate from European food industry trade organisation FoodDrinkEurope, Beate Kettlitz.
“The fact that the European Commission shortlists a food industry lobbyist, once again, for EFSA's Management Board is an incomprehensible signal for all those concerned about the protection of consumers and the environment,” said Martin Pigeon, a researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory. “Such a professional on EFSA's board would by definition be a permanent threat to the EU's food safety agency's independence.”
The shortlist contains 23 candidates, six of whom are highlighted as having backgrounds in organisations that represent consumers or other food chain interests.
According to EFSA’s founding regulation: “The Management Board shall be composed of 14 members appointed by the Council in consultation with the European Parliament from a list drawn up by the Commission which includes a number of candidates substantially higher than the number of members to be appointed, plus a representative of the Commission.
“Four of the members shall have their background in organisations representing consumers and other interests in the food chain.”
Other nominees highlighted by CEO as having industry links include Jan Mousing, CEO of the Danish Knowledge Centre for Agriculture; Piet Vanthemsche, who holds a position with farmers’ union COPA; Alan Reilly, chief executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the European Food Information Council (EUFIC); and Milan Kovac, from the Slovak Ministry of Agriculture, who until 2011 worked with the International Life Sciences Institute, a non-profit that receives industry funding.
CEO claims the Commission's justification for these nominations is “an industry-friendly interpretation of EFSA's founding regulation”.
“Nowhere is it mentioned that the food industry should be involved, in fact quite the contrary: EFSA's 2011 independence rules stipulate that “persons employed by industry shall not be allowed to become members of EFSA's Scientific Committee, Scientific Panels and working groups”,” it said.
The list is drawn up by the Commission, then forwarded to the European Parliament, which must make its views available for consideration by the Council within three months. The Council then appoints the management board.
CEO also mentioned that when the Commission nominated FoodDrinkEurope executive director Mella Frewen a year ago, her appointment was rejected by the European Parliament.
EFSA itself has no role in appointing its management board.
Seven of the fourteen seats are due for renewal in June 2014.