Conflicts of interest at the EFSA erode public confidence

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Conflicts of interest at the EFSA erode public confidence

The article, “Conflicts of interest at the European Food Safety Authority erode public confidence”, has been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, part of the British Medical Journal group. (Download the PDF.)

The authors are Claire Robinson from Earth Open Source and GMWatch, Nina Holland and David Leloup from Corporate Europe Observatory, and Hans Muilerman from Pesticide Action Network Europe.

The citation is:

Robinson, C., Holland, N., Leloup, D., and Muilerman, H. (2013). Conflicts of interest at the European Food Safety Authority erode public confidence. J Epidemiol Community Health. Published online March 8, 2013: 10.1136/jech-2012-202185.

The article covers:

  • EFSA’s biased and asymmetric evaluation of the 2012 study on GM maize NK603 by Prof GE Séralini, compared with EFSA’s acceptance of industry studies that are far weaker in design;
  • how the GM industry-funded group, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), heavily influenced the lax assessment process used by EFSA to evaluate the safety of GM foods and crops;
  • how EFSA undermined a democratically established EU law on pesticides, enabling industry and regulators to ignore studies from the independent scientific literature on pesticide risks;
  • how EFSA promoted an ILSI-originated concept called Threshold of Toxicological Concern, which allows untested or inadequately tested chemicals to remain on the market on the basis of assumed safe levels that have not been verified by testing;
  • how experts with links to industry and ILSI have systematically infiltrated EFSA from the beginning of the agency’s existence and promoted industry-friendly tools and methodologies. These have been incorporated into EFSA’s risk assessment processes. Thus even if an expert with a conflict of interest is removed, their legacy remains behind them in the form of weak risk assessment processes that put public health at risk.
  • suggestions for reform, including:

    • ending reliance on industry studies for safety evaluations;
    • tightening EFSA’s rules on conflicts of interest and establishing sanctions for those who breach them;
    • establishing a code of scientific practice that lays down a systematic and transparent method of evaluating the entire body of scientific evidence;
    • external peer review of EFSA opinions;
    • broadening the range of scientific expertise on EFSA’s expert panels;
    • and ensuring wider participation in decision-making to include social, economic and ethical factors.

Background

The journal editor commissioned the paper after the publication of the Corporate Europe Observatory/Earth Open Source report: Holland, N., Robinson, C., and Harbinson, R. (2012). Conflicts on the menu: A decade of industry influence at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Brussels, Belgium, Corporate Europe Observatory and Earth Open Source.

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