The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) continues to demonstrate its 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. It highlights 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 Executive Director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle said: “This external evaluation underlines that EFSA operates to the highest standards – particularly with regard to the quality of our scientific opinions and risk assessment methodologies.
“Independence, transparency and openness are core values upon which the Authority is built and the review acknowledges that our culture and safeguards in this respect are among the most rigorous of any comparable organisation.
“We welcome the recommendations the report makes to improve the way we operate still further and these will be key in laying the foundations to build our strategic plan over the next five years.”
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 cooperation - 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.
Comment from Sue Davies, vice chair of EFSA’s Management Board and chair of the External Evaluation Steering Committee
Speaking after the publication of the External Evaluation of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Sue Davies, Vice Chair of EFSA’s Management Board and Chair of the External Evaluation Steering Committee, said:
“'It is of fundamental importance that EFSA is periodically reviewed by an external auditor to ensure that it is fulfilling its responsibilities, responding effectively to the challenges facing the food supply chain and meeting stakeholder expectations.
“The final report, published today, shows that ten years on since it was established, EFSA is functioning well and fulfilling its mission to provide high quality risk assessments that serve as the basis for science-based EU regulation throughout the food chain.
“It praises EFSA for having one of the most advanced and robust systems for ensuring its independence and for the high level of openness and transparency that now go far beyond the requirements of the founding regulation.
“But it is important not to be complacent. As the evaluation notes, the context in which EFSA operates and the demands placed on it are ever more complex. It recommends several areas where the Authority can improve how it performs. These include further cooperation with Member States and international agencies, improving the timeliness of outputs, better promotion of EFSA's self tasking function as well as further steps to enhance transparency of how EFSA reaches its decisions.”
“I am sure of the commitment within EFSA to progress the outstanding issues raised in the coming months. The Management Board will be reviewing the evaluation report and agreeing the best way to take the recommendations forward at its next meeting in October.”