The EU’s food safety watchdog faces a funding shortfall over the next five years but will not discuss the issue with Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis when he visits its Parma headquarters for the first time today (27 April).
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carries out scientific risk assessments on behalf of the EU and advises the European Commission. It revealed it was short of cash in its 2020 strategy report, which was published recently.
Resources are scarce and staff numbers are set to be reduced by 10% between 2013-2018.
“It is true that there are several challenges in the years to come for EFSA, and pressure on resources including staffing levels is one of these. At the same time, there is an increasing demand for additional services from EFSA and a need to tackle highly complex scientific issues,” an EFSA spokesperson told euractiv.com.
Today and Thursday, Andriukaitis will visit EFSA’s headquarter for the first time to discuss the agency’s future strategy, but he will not address the funding issue.
“Budgetary and funding questions are not on the agenda of the meetings that Commissioner Andriukaitis will have in Parma with EFSA officials,” a spokesperson from the Commission said.
In its strategy report EFSA said “new risks in food production will continue to emerge, thereby increasing the need for data, methodologies, expertise and scientific advice on new and complex food safety questions.”
Other future global threats coming from for example climate change and population growth will also increase the watchdog’s workload.
The Parma-based agency is planning an efficiency drive, for example by reducing possible duplications in its risk assessment work programmes and by making use of emerging technologies.
The EFSA spokesperson declined to say whether funding challenges had previously been raised with the European Commission and what the consequences will be for its risk assessment of consumer products, and ultimately for consumers.
EFSA employs 460 people and receives €79.6 million annually from the Commission’s Horizon 2020 funding programme.
As this programme is managed by different Commission departments, the food safety watchdog could potentially lobby other commissioners than Andriukaitis in order to receive more money.
New office in Brussels
As part of its strategy for the coming years, the food safety authority also wants to burnish its public image.
Three years ago, EFSA was criticised by many MEPs and health NGOs for recruiting people for its expert panels who had strong industry links.
Since then, EFSA changed its recruitment procedure and is now screening members of the panels for conflicts of interest.
However, only two months ago the Swedish broadcaster SVT accused an EFSA report on sugar of being biased.
SVT claimed that four out of five reports which EFSA used in its risk assessment of the relationship between sugar and weight gain were funded by either the sugar, candy or soda industry.
“EFSA wholly rejects these allegations, which are false and unsubstantiated,” the food safety authority responded.
At the beginning of this year, EFSA set up a Brussels Liaison Office, so far only manned by one person, with the view of making it permanent.
“It’s been set up to strengthen dialogue and engagement with EU institutions, Brussels-based media and key ESFA stakeholders based in Brussels,” a spokesperson explained.