By Martin Banks - 19th September 2011
EFSA has clearly failed to learn from previous scandals
Corporate Europe Observatory
New research has revealed "further conflicts of interest" among experts advising the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) about the safety of food additives.
A study found that two of the new experts appointed by EFSA to the panel responsible for looking at food additives have allegedly failed to declare consulting activities for the food industry-funded think tank and lobby group, International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI).
The research was carried out by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and Réseau Environnement Santé/French network on health and environment (RES) which has now written to EFSA to demand the dismissal of the two experts.
They have also written to EU administration commissioner Maroš Šefcovic to urge tighter new rules governing conflicts of interest within the EU's agencies.
According to the new research, Riccardo Crebelli, a research director at the Italian institute of health, and Ursula Gundert-Remy, a former medical expert at the German institute for risk assessment, have both acted as advisers for ILSI in the past five years.
It is claimed Gundert-Remy was appointed as scientific adviser at the ILSI research foundation in Washington in 2005, and Crebelli was a member of a scientific committee on the safety of food packaging set up by ILSI in 2008.
The new evidence follows similar breaches of trust at EFSA in June this year. Four members of the same scientific panel updated their declarations of interest following a CEO report revealing their undeclared consulting activities with ILSI.
The NGO report also found that 11 out of the 20 experts on the panel had a conflict of interests, as defined by the organisation for economic cooperation and development (OECD).
Questions have been raised about EFSA's advice in recent months and EFSA was recently asked to re-examine its advice on aspartame following concerns about health impacts.
Nina Holland, of Corporate Europe Observatory, said, "EFSA has clearly failed to learn from previous scandals.
"Under EFSA's own rules, members of the scientific panels are required to declare potential conflicts of interest. Two new members of the ANS panel appear to be in breach of the rules and we believe that as a result they should be dismissed."
André Cicolella, from Réseau Environnement Santé, said, "The commission must introduce much stricter rules to prevent these recurrent scandals which undermine public confidence in our food safety body.
"Experts having done consultancy and advisory work on a paid or unpaid basis for food companies, food industry associations, or think tanks funded by the food industry these last five years should not be allowed to sit on EFSA's scientific panels."
EFSA rules on conflicts of interest require members of its expert panels to report any work for industry in the past five years which could affect their independence.
Under these rules, failure to disclose "advice or services in a particular field falling within EFSA's remit", even if unpaid, is considered as a "prima facie breach of trust towards EFSA" that could lead to these two experts dismissal.
No-one from the agency was immediately available for comment.