By Martin Banks - 8th December 2011
EFSA should acknowledge that it failed to observe the relevant procedural rules
The European ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros has ruled in favour of a complaint filed by Testbiotech against the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The case concerns a former senior staff member at EFSA, Dr Suzy Renckens, who was head of the unit responsible for the risk assessment of genetically engineered plants for five years until 2008.
Renckens, a Belgian national, then moved to a job at Syngenta, a company that produces and markets these plants.
The Strasbourg-based ombudsman said on Thursday that he agreed with Testbiotech's complaint.
He said, "EFSA should acknowledge that it failed to observe the relevant procedural rules and to carry out a sufficiently thorough assessment of the potential conflict of interests arising from the move of a former member of its staff to a biotechnology company."
The ruling was welcomed by Christoph Then, of Testbiotech, who said, "It shows in detail that EFSA failed to fulfil its obligations."
He added, "We are very concerned that both EFSA and the commission have tried to deny their responsibilities in this case by rejecting our original complaints.
"The authority and the commission, which backs EFSA, are eroding confidence in European institutions. In consequence they are putting at risk the protection of consumers and the environment."
Olivier Hoedeman, of Corporate Europe Observatory, said, "There have been other cases of staff going through the revolving door.
"EFSA should look carefully at the ruling and introduce a far stricter approach to conflicts of interest in the future.
"The ombudsman makes some important recommendations which should lead to changes in how revolving door rules are implemented across the EU institutions, including at the commission.
"We continue to see further scandalous revolving doors cases and it is vital that the EU institutions, starting with the commission, put improved rules and procedures in place to prevent future conflicts of interest, including a cooling off period of several years.
"It is time for a new start. No more business as usual."
The Suzy Renckens case was made public by Testbiotech in November 2009. EFSA now has until 31 March to respond to the judgement of the ombudsman who has the power to table the issue in parliament.