EFSA hands over names attached to expert comments

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

'We made a big step forward,' said PAN Europe
'We made a big step forward,' said PAN Europe

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The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has handed over details of which working group members made what changes to a draft document on pesticides following a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling – but it will be keeping EFSA staff details to itself.

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe and environmental activist law firm ClientEarth won the case this summer, overturning a September 2013 ruling by the EU General Court and annulling a December 2011 decision by EFSA to keep the details confidential. 

PAN Europe wanted to see tracked Word document changes for guidance documents published by EFSA’s panel on Plant Protection Products and their Residues (PPR) and the Pesticide Steering Committee (PSC) with names for each suggested change.  

EFSA sent those documents for panel and working group members in a letter dated 28 October 2015.

However, it has decided not to extend this to EFSA staff or member state representatives.

PAN Europe told us it was “happy for now”​ with this outcome but had sought advice from its lawyers about whether it should challenge this second point.

“We made a big step forward,”​ said PAN Europe’s chemicals coordinator Hans Muilerman.
A spokesperson for EFSA told us its decision sat within the remit of the ruling. 

It said its EFSA staff had “work obligations and status that differ from scientific experts” ​and they were already subject to internal and external checks and controls.

“This statutory framework regulates aspects relating to staff behaviour, independence, working conditions and rights and obligations. Moreover, the transfer of personal data of EFSA staff was not included in the scope of the Court ruling, which only concerned external scientific experts.”

For the member states representatives, which contributed through the Pesticides Steering Committee, only the name of the member state was given not the individual. 

“These comments were submitted to EFSA on behalf of the member state, and cannot be considered as the personal position of the member of the network.These individuals were not experts working for EFSA, and therefore were not included within the scope of the judgement of the Court.”

At the time of the ruling EFSA told us it could be possible the ECJ case is used to request information for other documents. 

Defending its initial rejection of the information request, EFSA told us in the summer it fully supported the principle of increased transparency and openness in its work, but in this specific case it believed it had legitimate reasons to protect the identity of data subjects.

It said the ruling could inhibit scientists' ability to freely discuss issues.

EFSA's executive director Dr Bernhard Url echoed this sentiment last month​ when he spoke with us about transparency. 

"I think that science needs parts of the process in a closed room and then many steps of the process in an open atmosphere. But I think it also needs a protected room where they can speak completely freely, openly and challenge each other. That’s also science,” ​he said. 

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