GM Free Cymru

New study slams EFSA's GM industry contacts and bias

EFSA is slammed in a new report detailing the links between that reviled organization and the GM industry. This is the third such report to appear in the last few months -- how many more reports will it take for the Commission to take decisive action to reform EFSA? What's their problem? Are they just rather slow on the uptake?

One particularly interesting aspect of this new report is the evidence relating to ILSI's input into the revision and rewriting process for pesticide and GM safety assessments -- leading to the industry- friendly outcome of “reduction of toxicity testing in animals” – saving industry time and money. Testbiotech has already identified a direct and blatant ILSI input (via ILSI-associated specialists) into the writing of the regulations. That is a scandal, but EFSA even thanks ILSI and praises its proposals as clarifying “emerging developments in scientific understanding” and providing examples of “the way in which scientific understanding on risk assessment for plant protection products is currently evolving”. This is clearly a mutual benefit situation, arising out of EFSA's lack of resources and expertise, and ILSI's desire to promote the interests of its members. EFSA wins and ILSI wins -- and the loser is the public, through revised, speeded-up, watered-down and more haphazard safety assessment processes which place public health at risk.

See also:

Europe’s pesticide and food safety regulators – Who do they work for?

by Claire Robinson Contact: Earth Open Source 2011


The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is charged with regulating pesticides, genetically modified (GM) foods, and food contaminants to protect public health. But some prominent EFSA regulators have conflicts of interest, holding positions in organisations that are funded by the same companies whose products they are supposed to regulate.

This report shows that over a period of many years, influential EFSA managers and regulators have been heavily involved with a US-based organisation called the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which is funded by multinational pesticide, chemical, GM seed, and food companies.

Publicly funded regulators in the EFSA, as well as in US regulatory agencies, have developed a cosy relationship with ILSI. They collaborate with ILSI in workshops and conferences that work on redesigning the risk assessment processes under which ILSI member companies’ products are evaluated for safety. EFSA regulators also collaborate with ILSI affiliates in publishing papers in scientific journals. Unlike most published scientific research in the field of toxicology, ILSI papers do not report the outcomes of actual research. Instead, they propose changes to risk assessment based on the outcomes of ILSI workshops and projects, citing as their authority ILSI and other industry-generated publications.

ILSI cultivates an image of independent scientific inquiry and constructive engagement with government-funded regulators. But its proposals on risk assessment follow a trend of making safety testing procedures less rigorous and cheaper for industry – at the expense of public health and the environment. ILSI proposals are often uncritically embraced by EFSA regulators. They make their way into influential EFSA policy Opinions and Guidances on the risk assessment of pesticides, chemicals, and GM foods. In effect, EFSA is allowing industry to help design the rules of risk assessment for its products.

The presence of ILSI and other industry-affiliated people on EFSA scientific panels, combined with evidence of industry influence on EFSA policy, fatally undermines the integrity of the pesticide and food safety regulatory process.

If public confidence in the regulatory procedures for pesticides, chemicals, and GM foods is to be restored, EFSA must cease participating in privileged access meetings and projects on risk assessment with the industry it is paid to regulate. In addition, EFSA must make a ‘clean sweep’ of ILSI and other industry influ- ence from its management boards and scientific panels.


Conclusions and recommendations

The independence of EFSA’s risk assessment processes on pesticides and food safety has been seriously compromised by its close involvement with industry, chiefly represented by ILSI. EFSA must make a ‘clean sweep’ of ILSI- and other industry-affiliated people from its boards and Panels. It should reform its conflicts of interest rules to exclude people with unpaid as well as paid roles in industry organisations.

EFSA Opinions and Guidances issued during the tenure of ILSI-connected people on the PPR, CONTAM, and GMO Panels must be reviewed for pro-industry bias by independent experts on toxicology and public health, as well as representatives of the general public. The independent experts and public representatives must be paid solely from public funds to do this work – a doubling-up of expense made necessary by EFSA’s failure to ensure its independence. It is not enough to identify specific written contributions to Opinions and Guidances by individual panel members, as EFSA did regarding Moretto. The reviewers should consider whether the recommendations in EFSA Opinions and Guidances are in the best interests of public health and the environment – or in the best interests of industry. Until this process is complete, the recommendations of EFSA Opinions and Guidances should not be adopted as EU regulations. Those that have already been adopted must be re-examined.

EFSA should ban its scientific panel members from working for industry while they are employed to work for the public and should pay them well enough to ensure that they do not need to seek industry funds. Also, rules should be implemented to banish the ‘revolving door’ syndrome, whereby someone passes straight from a job with industry to EFSA. EFSA should not be taken in by industry-generated claims that suitable scientific expertise is only to be found in the industry sector and that industry interests are unavoidable. EFSA should recruit its scientific advisers from the ranks of toxicologists, ecotoxicologists, and public health experts in the public sector who have not received relevant industry funding.

Further, EFSA should favour scientists who are actively doing research in toxicology, embryology, epidemiology, ecology, and other fields directly relevant to public health and the environment. Many of these people are engaged in far more advanced and relevant scientific work than that practised by industry toxicologists, who still use the same outdated and insensitive methods developed almost a hundred years ago by the pharmaceutical industry.137 138 139 Care should be taken to exclude people who seldom see the inside of a laboratory but who specialize in helping industry get its products onto the market and keep them there.

Industry is entitled to hold its own meetings, as is EFSA. But it is not acceptable for EFSA regulators to collaborate with industry people in forums and projects that exclude other stakeholders, such as the public and NGOs. EFSA could hold multi-stakeholder meetings that are open to public representatives, NGOs, and industry. This would ensure that the discourse between EFSA and all stakeholders, including industry, is transparent.

Until these measures are implemented, the public cannot have confidence in EFSA’s regulatory processes.