EU politicians should show trust in the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and put their personal opinions on food safety assessments on hold, centre-right MEP Peter Jahr told EURACTIV Germany in an interview.
Jahr, an EU lawmaker of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group of the European Parliament, called on politicians to stick to their political role and let EFSA, the EU food safety watchdog, get its job done.
“We should not make any political gut decisions but instead be guided by the scientific findings provided to us by EFSA, which is responsible for risk assessment,” he said.
“But doing it this way also means sometimes putting your personal opinion on hold,” he added.
The German MEP also backed the re-approval of the world’s most commonly used weedkiller, glyphosate, which sparked an intense debate in the EU last year and was actually the reason why the European Commission came up with new proposals on food safety transparency rules.
Jahr, who is also a member of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and the Committee on Petitions, supported the decision to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, which according to EFSA threaten bees.
“I stand by the EFSA’s recommendation for glyphosate as much as by its recommendation for neonicotinoids, where a ban was recommended,” he said.
“In my view, it isn’t fair when some colleagues heap praise on the EFSA when it is in line with their gut feeling and who then attack it when it isn’t,” he emphasised.
Both cases triggered reactions among stakeholders in Brussels. The industry praised the Commission and EFSA over the glyphosate re-authorisation while environmentalists and civil society organisations questioned the transparency of the decision.
On the other hand, the industry disagreed with the method used by EFSA to assess neonicotinoids while NGOs praised the EU institutions for their decision to ban them.
“Some of the same campaign groups who attacked EFSA’s credibility over glyphosate applauded our work on neonicotinoids,” EFSA director Bernhard Url told EURACTIV.com in September 2018.
Glyphosate’s ‘unclear’ effects on flora and fauna
Regarding glyphosate, Jahr the effects on human health and on flora and fauna were often confused.
“The thing that is often mixed up on the topic of glyphosate is the question of the effects on human health, which – in my view – the EFSA has clearly rejected, and the question of the effects on flora and fauna. In this case, it is less clear.”
“It depends on the concrete application. For example, optimising harvest seasons using glyphosate shouldn’t be permitted. However, there has been too little discussion about the application possibilities,” he said.
“Had we trusted in our competent institutions, we would have had better results”, he insisted.
EU food transparency
The last battleground of the expiring legislative terms will be the reform of the General Food Law (GFL), which established the EFSA back in 2002 and introduced the risk analysis principle to the EU food law.
Following the controversy over the safety evaluations of disputed products such as glyphosate, the Commission presented new legislation to update the GFL in April. Both the Parliament and the EU ministers are ready to start institutional negotiations in January, but the parliamentary procedure to adopt the mandate was long and troubled and ended up with an unexpected twist.
The Parliament’s rapporteur Renate Sommer, indeed, announced her intention to quit the file immediately after the report was approved, displeased with the fact that the plenary voted down her approach.
She was replaced by another MEP from the EPP, Pilar Ayuso, but the ideological split within the Parliament does not seem to be settled. Divisions ran between those who see the European industry’s competitiveness threatened from the risk assessment criteria proposed by the Commission, and those who call for a higher level for transparency for citizens.