European GM safety authority accused of biased reporting

The EU authority for food safety has been accused of producing biased reports that favour the biotech industry by campaign group Friends of the Earth Europe.

In their report, Throwing Caution to the Wind, FoE Europe heavily criticised the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for its constant position in favour of approving genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe.

The first ever critique of the authority and its work on GM foods, the grassroots organisation questioned the authenticity of the EFSA’s scientific opinions as a basis for the European Commission to license new GM products.

FoE’s biggest concern is that the EFSA panel is biased towards the biotechnology industry – the organisation claims virtually all of the 12 EFSA opinions produced so far have been pro-GMO. Moreover, some of the scientists on the panel have allegedly been involved with the biotech industry, for example, appearing on promotional videos.

“This authority plays a key role in the approval of new genetically modified food in Europe,” coordinator of the report and GM campaigner for FoE Adrian Bebb stated. “It needs to be independent from industry and put public and environmental safety before the financial interests of the GM companies. Sadly it is neither of these. The public deserves and demands that their safety is put first.”

However, spokesperson for the EFSA Dr Carola Sondermann said that the organisation did not believe the report called into question the legitimacy of its opinions. She added that members of the panel were leading international experts, and therefore were bound to have contact with industry in order to hold that position.

“EFSA recognises that providing independent, objective scientific advice is critical to fulfilling its mandate,” she told edie. “The principal criteria for selection of experts to EFSA panels are scientific excellence and expertise in risk assessment.”

“Scientific experts who are members of EFSA panels are leading experts in their field. It therefore follows that these experts have often served in national risk assessment committees and that their advice may also have been sought by industry.”

The fact that many other scientists in Europe have voiced their concerns about the possible negative implications of so-called “Frankenstein crops” on both human health and the environment is also mentioned in the FoE report, questioning how the EFSA does not seem to share the same concerns (see related story).

“The European Food Safety Authority has clearly made up its mind that GM foods are safe and ignores any evidence or views that question that position,” Mr Bebb continued. “Its opinions to date have constantly supported the biotechnology industry and it disregards voices of concern from either the public or the national Member States. How can so many scientists in Europe be wrong and the EFSA right?”

FoE Europe makes recommendations to the EU authority in its report in order to make their opinions more representative of the European public’s view. These include:

  • Replacing pro-GM members of the EFSA GMO scientific panel, including the chair

  • A review by an independent panel of all the EFSA GM opinions

  • The application of EU law to ensure long-term test are done, the level of scientific uncertainty is highlighted and that the EFSA works with Member States to overcome their differences of opinion

    The management board of the EFSA intends to hold a meeting this December to publicly discuss the issues raised by the report and see if any changes need to be made to the way that the panel is structured, according to Ms Sondermann.

    However, she also told edie that the board would not be pushed into compromising their professional integrity.

    “EFSA recognises that there are different views regarding GM foods,” she pointed out, “but its role is to provide scientific advice on food and feed products.”

    By Jane Kettle

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