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EFSA to implement updated rules on conflicts of interest

By Nathan Gray , 05-Mar-2012
Last updated on 05-Mar-2012 at 16:04 GMT

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has announced new implementing rules on how to manage declarations of interest and independence in its scientific decision making process.

EFSA said the rules on declarations of interest (DOIs) will strengthen procedures in place for screening and managing interests declared by people involved in EFSA’s activities.

The Parma-based agency said the new rules provide a clearer and more transparent ‘set of general principles’ that are applicable to all those engaging in EFSA’s work – including scientific experts, staff, members of the management board, and third party organisations, including external contractors.

For the first time, the agency said it has also made explicit that the rules also apply to external organisations, such as contractors or grant beneficiaries that contribute to EFSA’s scientific work.

EFSA executive director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle said: “EFSA understands that, notwithstanding the high calibre of its scientific work, the value of its scientific advice is directly linked to the level of trust held in it by the public and therefore seeks to guarantee independence in all aspects of its governance and scientific activities.”

In a recent survey, Geslain-Lanéelle, who heads up the EU risk assessor also agreed with 66% of readers who voted to say that EFSA should block its staff from taking up ‘revolving door’ jobs

In an EFSA statement today, she said the new Implementing Rules “provide clearer guidance for experts submitting Declarations of Interest to EFSA and increase the level of scrutiny and number of safeguards in place to guarantee independence throughout all our activities.”

New rules

The updated EFSA rules state that where a potential conflict of interest is identified, the scientific expert or individual is prohibited from participating in EFSA’s scientific work or taking up certain roles. For example, EFSA said that scientists currently employed by industry (including those who work in full-time consultancy) in areas relevant to EFSA’s work “are categorically excluded from becoming a member of any of EFSA’s scientific groups, including the Scientific Committee, its Panels and their Working Groups.”

In addition – and in recognition that the responsibility for complete and truthful declarations of interest lie with the person filling in the declaration – under the new rules EFSA has introduced an additional level of scrutiny in the form of random checks on such declarations. The agency said that as part of the overall verification of its declarations of interest procedures, it will carry out random sampling of declarations from scientific experts “to monitor for completeness and coherence with EFSA’s rules.”

“Importantly, these improvements also provide an additional layer of protection for EFSA’s scientific experts in recognition of their commitment to support the organisation in fulfilling its public health mission,” said Geslain-Lanéelle.

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