Under-fire EFSA pledges to "enhance dialogue" with industry

The European Food Safety Authority has pledged to improve its dialogue with the food and beverage industry as part of a proposed new communications strategy.

The agency, which has been criticised in some quarters for a perceived reluctance to engage directly with applicants in the EU's health claims approval process, said the strategy was being revisited because the nature and profile of its work had altered since 2006, when the last communications strategy was put in place.

In the consultation it states: "EFSA's communications outputs and their uptake have significantly increased, attesting to the growing visibility of its scientific work…. Work in the area of nutrition and health, nanotechnology and cloning have added new dimensions to its work and new relevance for a wider audience."

The agency has identified four "strategic priorities" which it says will guide its efforts to enhance communication. They are (in EFSA's own words):

  • Simplicity and transparency: increase relevance and understanding of EFSA communications for key target audiences and informed lay audiences, in co-operation with member states
  • Visibility and outreach: enhance outreach, in the EU and beyond, by increasing awareness and recognition of EFSA and its work
  • Coherence: further increase the coherence of risk communications across the EU and beyond
  • Dialogue: enhance dialogue with stakeholders and increase audience interactivity.

The last point in particular is likely to be welcomed by businesses in the functional food and beverage industry. EFSA is responsible for assessing claims under the EU's Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation and many companies — left feeling sore by negative opinions on their claims — have complained that the agency does not make enough effort to discuss submissions with directly applicants.

Only last week, on May 19, trade body the European Federation of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM) expressed its "extreme disappointment" that "no proper dialogue" had been held between EFSA and the industry on the assessment of the list of Article 13.1 health claims.

Referring to an event set to be held by EFSA in Parma on June 1 (see details here) EHPM chairman Peter Van Doorn said: "We are disappointed that the first opportunity to discuss EFSA's assessment of the Article 13 claims comes as late as three years after claims were submitted in 2007, and after EFSA has delivered its two batches of opinions for 936 out of 4,000."

It remains to be seen whether the strategy will change anything in respect to the health claims regulation, but stakeholders will be encouraged to voice their dissatisfaction with EFSA's communications efforts in future. The agency said it would be monitoring stakeholder feedback on EFSA consultations, meetings and other activities in a bid to assess whether it was doing a good job.

Interested parties have until July 5 to comment on the new communications strategy, which can be viewed in full here.

Meanwhile, in other developments:

  • EFSA has issued an 18-page document offering further guidance on submitting health claims dossiers, ahead of the meeting to discuss the regulation with industry and other stakeholders on 1 June. View the guidance here.
  • And a vote in the European Parliament on whether to delete nutrient profiling from the Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation, due to have taken place on May 18, has now been put back to the middle of June.
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