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EFSA should improve communication, say auditors

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 06-Sep-2012

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) generally operates in a transparent, independent and open way, but it could improve its international reputation and communication on potential conflicts of interest, according to a third-party review.

The report, compiled by international auditors Ernst & Young, said EFSA’s work was generally “of good quality and useful for policy making.”

However, although EFSA’s opinions and decisions are well-respected within the EU, the agency still needs to work on its international reputation. The auditors recommended that EFSA should concentrate on building relationships with other international organisations and work on promoting an EU approach to risk assessment on an international level.

Health claims

The report said that health claims have added complexity and new responsibilities to EFSA, and the agency has therefore faced increasing demands for scientific advice. EFSA has restructured as a result, but its efficiency has been limited by a fragmented legislative framework and a weak monitoring process, the report found.

Language barriers were also highlighted as problematic in EFSA’s communication, particularly when communicating with the general public, although “messages may be adequate for a well-informed target audience.”

On independence…

On the issue of independence, the auditors said: “Despite criticisms, no major changes in EFSA’s structures, governance and procedures are needed and the current situation is considered a satisfying infrastructure.”

However, they added that more transparency and improved communication were required in relation to screening requirements to determine conflicts of interest, mitigation of criticism toward EFSA’s independence, and its links with industry. The report also found that although progress had been made to increase the transparency of the risk assessment process, it was still too closed.

EFSA executive director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle said: “This external evaluation underlines that EFSA operates to the highest standards – particularly with regard to the quality of our scientific opinions and risk assessment methodologies.

“Independence, transparency and openness are core values upon which the Authority is built and the review acknowledges that our culture and safeguards in this respect are among the most rigorous of any comparable organisation.

“We welcome the recommendations the report makes to improve the way we operate still further and these will be key in laying the foundations to build our strategic plan over the next five years.”

The full report is available for download here .