Speaking at the opening keynote of Vitafoods in Geneva last week, five industry experts asked: What is ‘open EFSA’ and what should it be?
Peter Wennström, president and consultant at The HealthyMarketingTeam, said currently EFSA was slowing industry innovation and confusing consumers.
He said this was due to a fundamental “system problem” and drastic changes were needed to rectify this and put communication in a nutrition, not pharma, context.
“I would actually change their role. If you look at the whole European system, we need to look at the higher objective: the health of our population. And at the moment there is a little system failure.”
Yet Patrick Coppens, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for trade group Food Supplements Europe, said this would not come as part of the open EFSA initiative as their role as risk assessor was laid down in legislation by the European Commission and member states.
“EFSA safety mandate is very broad and its nutrition mandate very narrow. If that needs to change that will not happen via open EFSA but by legislation or interpretation of legislation.”
The bigger, long-term picture
Maryse Hervé, secretary-general of the Federation of European Specialty Food Ingredients Industries, said changes could be on the cards with an ongoing review of the general food law and whether it was fit for purpose.
Simon Pettman, of EAS Strategies, Maryse Hervé of the Federation of European Specialty Food Ingredients Industries, Patrick Coppens of Food Supplements Europe, Michele Kellerhals of NewTech Consulting and Peter Wennström of The HealthyMarketingTeam discussed how an open EFSA could achieve efficiencies through better communications.
While this would not impact the function of EFSA itself, which was mandated separately, it would still address how EFSA interacted with the Commission and member states and how mandates came in – specifically with or without industry input.
Better coordination on this would mean great efficiencies long term, she said.
Picking up on these points, chair of the talk and director of EAS Strategies Simon Pettman asked: “Is the problem the [health claim] regulation or is the problem EFSA?”
Coppens said both the legislation and the way in which it was applied were to blame for the current “over-burdensome” regulation and process.
EFSA’s role in health claims came after the legislation had already been developed, which could be seen now as a mistake. He added that now most methodologies were opened up to public consultation, but this had not been the case for the pharma-like methodology of the claims process where EFSA had played a “lone-ranger role”.
As part of the open EFSA movement, Hervé said the body was accepting the importance of “frank and open dialogue” with its applicants.
While pre-submission meetings appeared to be a “no-go”, EFSA was at least considering annual application meetings for a wide range of subjects to explain its expectations. Industry was also pushing for greater use of industry hearing experts for panel discussions, currently used by only some of EFSA’s panels.
She said dialogue was key for stakeholder satisfaction and efficiency, which was already being realised by certain panels.
Over the last few years EFSA has received criticism from all sides: Consumer groups accusing the risk assessment body of being in bed with industry and industry accusing it of lacking transparency and accessibility.
This tugging from either side has resulted in its release of a document, the final draft due at the end of this year, seeking to lay the foundations of a more open EFSA.