Regulator says levying fees could harm independence

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Efsa, European union, European food safety authority

The EU's food safety agency has expressed reservations about a plan
by the European Commission to make companies pay fees for
risk assessments.

In a letter to the Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) leans against setting up such a system at the present time. If the advice is taken, companies could continue to get their risk assessments for free. "The possibility of EFSA charging fees should be considered in light of the fact that EFSA is already under scrutiny on its real and perceived independence and is a young organisation which is still developing its trust profile with its stakeholders, institutional partners and consumers,"​ EFSA's board of directors said in a letter to the Commission. Companies submit dossiers and studies on new foods and ingredients to EFSA, which assesses whether these would pose a health risk to people. A positive scientific opinion on such ingredients as genetically modified corn usually results in Commission approval for introduction in the EU market. Currently companies do not pay for the risk assessments. Last year the Commission proposed levying fees for the risk assessments as a means of partially funding EFSA's work. A public consultation on the proposal has just ended. The board also called on the Commission not to make EFSA dependent on such fees as the basis for its budget, saying fees would not be "EFSA needs to be adequately funded,"​ the board stressed in the letter. "This needs to be true whether or not a fee system is introduced so that EFSA can deliver scientific risk assessments across all its remit, and continue to communicate on its findings."​ The board also expressed concern that the EU's budgetary authority would reduce its contribution to EFSA's budget automatically to take account of any fee income. Such a situation would leave EFSA dependent on funding that would change each year according to the number of dossiers submitted for risk assessment. Such a situation would introduce an element of uncertainty to resource allocation and planning, the board stated. "It is therefore not clear whether charging a fee would indeed assist with the overall EFSA budget,"​ the board stated. Other concerns relate to a potential for skewing of EFSA's priorities away from food safety areas that would not attract fees. "If fees are to be part of EFSA's funding it should be clear that the important self tasking work which enables EFSA to develop new risk assessment methodologies, or determine the significance of an emerging risk should not be put under pressure by the need to meet the demands of those paying fees for evaluations of substances or products,"​ the board stated. If fees are imposed these should be collected by the Commission instead of EFSA as a means of preserving the agency's independence, the board suggested. "For the applicant, the approval is the key element,"​ the board said. "The Commission itself could collect the fee and apportion this accordingly with part of the fee being used to fund enabling activities such as the risk assessment by EFSA. This would also remove any direct relationship between EFSA and the industrial entity and avoid calling into question EFSA's independence."​ The letter was sent by Patrick Wall, EFSA's chair, to Robert Madelin, the director general of the Commission's Health and Consumer Protection Directorate. During 2006 EFSA's scientific panels issued 136 opinions, some on submissions from private companies, others from queries sent to it by the Commission and the EU Parliament. Among those, are three scientific opinions on applications for the placing on the market of genetically modified plants. EFSA also evaluated eight food additives. Three others were issued on feed additives. One panel dealt with three dossiers related to novel foods applications. The panel issued an opinion on the safety of noni juice, a novel food ingredient authorised in 2003. The panel also issued two statements related to novel foods applications, one on rice drinks with added phytosterols and another one on the addition of DHA-rich oil from micro algae to an extended range of foods. EFSA also assesses health claims made for specific foods.

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