The European Commission has published a draft regulation that would revamp the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) risk assessment process so that it could publish confidential data deemed essential to protecting public health.
The draft regulation, aimed at increasing transparency and public trust in science, would create a common European register of commissioned studies to guarantee that firms applying for product authorisation were not withholding studies with unfavourable results, said FoodNavigator on 12 April.
The studies would be made publicly accessible at the EFSA’s website, where the public – including scientists – could search download and print them.
The new regulation would revise eight pieces of legislation to conform with the EU’s general food rules and to boost transparency regarding GMOs, feed additives, smoke flavourings, food contact materials, food additives, food enzymes and flavourings, plant protection products and novel foods.
In addition, the proposal would increase the EFSA’s budget by €62.5M (US$77.3M)/year.
It would now have to receive approval from members of the European Parliament and member states, but the Commission hoped that the draft would become law by mid-2019.
The Commission also said companies’ intellectual property rights and data exclusivity would be respected according to current EU law.
However, confidential information could be published when urgent action was necessary to protect public and animal health or the environment and when the information was part of the conclusions of an EFSA opinion and related to foreseeable health effects.
“What is key for us is consumer safety, that is absolutely mandatory, and we are committed to submitting whatever is needed so that the EFSA or any other evaluating body can conclude our materials and products are safe,” said Ute Woelke, vice president of strategic regulatory affairs and head of global raw materials at flavours and fragrances producer Symrise.
“It’s understandable that there’s a wish to be more transparent, but we also have to be clear that for companies that spend huge amounts of their yearly budget on innovation, protection of that is also important,” she told Food Navigator.
Martin Pigeon, food policy campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory, said the draft regulation was a “welcome first step in the right direction” but saw issues with the caveat that would require those wanting to quote the published information to request permission from the company that submitted it.
“This creates a huge risk that industry will block any scientific scrutiny of the EFSA’s assessment of their products. The publication of much-needed independent cross checks of industry data must not depend on the goodwill of private entities whose primary objective is to make a profit, not to protect public health and the environment,” Pigeon said.
According to FoodNavigator, the proposal came on the back of a European Citizens’ Initiative from October 2017 – titled ‘Ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides’ – which included demands to increase the transparency of scientific studies submitted to EFSA for evaluation.
However, the draft was also part of the Commission’s ongoing Fitness Check of the General Food Law, launched in 2002.