The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), based in Parma, Italy, continues to demonstrate it's value as the cornerstone of risk assessment for food and feed in the EU and fulfil its obligations to operate in an independent manner, an external evaluation has found.
The review also makes a number of recommendations on how the Authority could further improve its performance.
The report, by international auditors Ernst & Young, notes the high quality of EFSA’s scientific outputs and risk communication activities.
The report highlighted the Authority's culture of transparency and robust systems to ensure the impartiality of its scientific advice.
However, the evaluation also recommends that EFSA: enhance transparency in some decision-making processes; build better links with Member States; increase its planning and prioritisation capacity; improve the clarity of its communications and develop its data collection practices.
These proposals will make an important contribution to shaping future development of the organisation.
EFSA will reflect carefully on the report and its recommendations will be discussed among all key partners and stakeholders including the European Commission, European Parliament, member states as well as the Authority’s Management Board. Part of this review will be carried out during EFSA’s Institutional Conference on 13 November 2012.
Main Findings of Report
Meeting full scope of responsibilities - EFSA has accomplished the full scope of its responsibilities despite operating in an increasingly complex and demanding environment. It is meeting its core goals of providing its partners and stakeholders with the scientific and technical support they need through the publication of high quality scientific outputs.
Forefront of science - The organisation is seen as being at the forefront of scientific knowledge and risk assessment methods. But while EFSA’s reputation is strong in Europe, its standing on the international stage needs building.
Task allocation and Member State co-operation - Some concerns persist in relation to the efficiency and sustainability in the allocation of tasks between internal staff and experts and on how EFSA’s advice can best support safe innovation in the EU. The evaluation says improved cooperation with Member States is necessary to better share responsibilities, priorities and future workloads.
Data collection - EFSA’s data collection operations have fulfilled the requirements laid down in its founding regulation. But the authors say improving the harmonisation of EFSA’s data IT systems with those from member states, along with the way information is used, referenced, and accessed is needed.
Risk communications - The Authority’s achievements in improving awareness of risks in the food chain and promoting coherent communication on these issues are highlighted.
• “EFSA has succeeded in building awareness, trust and reputation for the overall food safety system and for itself, contributing to the harmonisation and coherence in risk communication,” says the report.
• It notes the efficacy and quality of risk communications to support decision-making processes. Greater clarity of messages and availability in more languages would facilitate outreach to a broader public. There is an opportunity to strengthen EFSA’s role in facilitating coherence of communications in times of crisis, supporting the European Commission and Member States in the dissemination of science-based advice.
Independence - The organisation operates in an impartial way and the report describes EFSA as having one of the most advanced and robust systems in place for ensuring independence.
• “Despite criticisms, no major changes in EFSA structures, governance and procedures are needed and the current situation is considered a satisfying infrastructure in itself and as compared to other European agencies and relevant international standards such as the OECD,” it says.
Openness and Transparency - EFSA has fulfilled its obligations to operate in an open and transparent manner. It has gone far beyond its original duties in making documents public and increasing the involvement of external bodies in a variety of ways, says the report.
EFSA should further enhance efforts to make its risk assessment and decision-making activities more open to public scrutiny to meet increasing stakeholder expectations. The impact of the pilot programme to open panels to observers needs to be evaluated and the possibility of widening access to documentation connected to screening procedures and conflicts of interests should also be considered.