The core task of the new European Food Safety Authority, still in its infancy and as yet without a permanent chief or home, will be to provide independent scientific advice in Europe on all matters with a direct or indirect impact on food safety.
One key component of the EFSA is the 15 member Management Board appointed by the Council of Ministers in agreement with the European Parliament.
Recently announced to Member States, the composition of the Board has already drawn criticism from consumer organisations who condemn the new Board as being 'packed with officials, mostly working under national governments' Beate Kettlitz, Food Policy Advisor at the European Consumers Association told FoodNavigator.com last week.
So how does the EFSA respond to this criticism? We asked Andy Stimpson, the recently appointed spokesman for the European Food Safety Authority. "During the present development stage, before the EFSA is able to carry out its core scientific task, we are in regular contact with the main European consumer representative organisations to ensure that, as far as possible, their main requirements are met."
"Discussions with these organisations are going well, and we believe that a very positive set of relationships have been created." Relationships that, arguably, would have been far more satisfactory had more than one of the selected candidates been nominated for the Board. But Stimpson remains confident that communication with consumers is a key priority.
"Our network of consumer links is being developed. This will address consumers through the general and consumer related press; through the network of representative and other organisations acting as multipliers; and via the Internet."
"The dialogue with consumer representatives may also identify potential avenues to be pursued, and the strategy will be modified over time. Via this dialogue, other inputs, and regular reviews, we can be sure that we are taking the best approach possible at all times," he added.
The Management Board, one of four essential components of the EFSA and so far the only aspect completed, is composed of 14 members appointed by the Council of Ministers in consultation with the European Parliament and one nominated by the Commission. So who is she/he? "The Commission representative is Robert Coleman, Director General for Health and Consumer Protection,"Stimpson told FoodNavigator.com.
The further three separate components to the EFSA are the Executive Director, the Advisory Forum, and the Scientific Committee and Panels. Can we observe any progress towards achieving the components? A major criticism from industry, consumer associations and related bodies is that the main building blocks are not in place and that progress towards the much-hyped EFSA is slow. "As we build up resources, the impetus improves. The only scenario that could stop the progress would be a change in the Parliament budget," stated Stimpson.
" The Management Board must be set in place first and it is totally within the timescale that we have been given. Once this is established, and the first Management Board meeting is next week, Commissioner Byrne [European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection and key instigator of the new food regulations, of which the EFSA forms a crucial part] can come along, welcome the new Board and then pass over the torch."
How often will the board meet? "Three or four times a year - but initially more due to the amount of work to be done - in particular a decision on the Executive Director," added Stimpson.
"The Board will shortly talk to, probably in early October, all short-listed candidates for the new post. The final decision will be reached through an official process involving the Parliament and the Management Board, who will select and appoint. There is a strong bond between the Parliament and the EFSA, despite the fact that the EFSA evolved out of a Commission proposal," said Stimpson.
Beate Kettlitz also made the criticism that while consumer organisations are totally under-represented on the new Board, there are too many government representatives. "The Advisory forum at the EFSA [composed of representatives from Member States] is already composed of government representatives - which means that Member State national governments have a double representation at the EFSA," she declared. "As far as I am aware, there is no significant influence from member states," said Stimpson.
"If there are any political wranglings, we are not aware of them. During the selection procedures the candidates chosen are taken on their merits. If it is the case thate we end up with two people from the same national authority - this could be considered to be a good or bad thing - but strict procedures will have been followed," he added.
It is still very early days for Europe's food safety body, with the first Management Board meeting set for this week. As Commissioner Byrne passes the baton to the new Board hopes are high that the new body will not disappoint the food-scare weary European consumer.