The European Court of Auditors has issued a special report finding that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and three other consumer health and safety agencies did not have “adequate” conflict-of-interest procedures in place as of October 2011. After auditing agency activities and comparing them with Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines, the court evidently concluded that certain conflict-of-interest risks “are embedded in the selected Agencies’ structure (e.g. the same organization is both a management representative and a supplier of services) and in the use of the research performed by the industry.”

In particular, the report faulted EFSA’s Management Board where four of the 15 members “have a background (including current involvement) in organizations representing consumers and other interests in the food industry.” It also noted that “the impartiality of EFSA’s work and decision-making might be jeopardized since three of these organizations represented on the Management Board are also represented in the stakeholder consultative platform.” The court has thus called on EFSA to implement, among other things, (i) better candidate screening before appointment, (ii) “clear and objective criteria for assessment of declarations of interest,” (iii) “gifts and invitations policies and procedures,” and (iv) “clear, transparent and consistent breach of trust policies and procedures.”

Meanwhile, EFSA has welcomed the audit’s results as validation of new conflict-of-interest policies adopted in July 2012. According to an October 11 press release, the agency has explained to the court that these updated measures already comply with many of the report’s recommendations. To bolster its case, EFSA has specifically pointed to its Policy on Declarations of Interest as well as its efforts to ensure that (i) “scientific opinions are the outcome of collective decision-making of EFSA’s Scientific Committee or its Scientific Panels”; (ii) “minority opinions are recorded”; (iii) “all scientific outputs are published”; and (iv) “there are procedures governing the processing of mandates and requests, data collection, the selection of experts as well as public consultations and a comprehensive quality review program.” The agency has also revamped its risk communication mandate and “begun making some of the plenaries of its Scientific Committee and Panels available for observer comment.”

“But we are not complacent on this issue as we know how important it is for the perception of, and trust in, EFSA’s work. We will continue to rigorously implement our new Policy on Independence and Scientific Decision-Making Processes and the related implementing rules which came into force in July,” said EFSA Executive Director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle. “These provide additional protection for EFSA’s scientific experts in recognition of their commitment to support the organization in fulfilling its public health mission. Our actions will be guided by the recommendations of the European Court of Auditors’ report and the views of the European Parliament.” See Europolitics, October 12, 2012.