This is another scandal which EFSA has brought upon itself, and which brings that beleaguered organization under scrutiny yet again. NGOs have been complaining for years about industry bias and revolving doors between EFSA and the GM industry and its apologists -- and it is no comfort that Diana Banati can walk straight out of RFSA and straight into a key role with ILSI, which exists purely to lobby on behalf of industry for a more lax regulatory regime within which industry can maximise its profits. Nobody is fooled by ILSI's (very recent) insistence that it is "a key partner for science in public health" -- and its influence has been pervasive ever since EFSA was formed.
Banati, Kuiper, Renckens -- they have each been in positions which enabled them to promote the interests of the GM industry, to modify (in other words, to loosen up) regulations, and to facilitate EFSA approvals of GM crops and foods.
We trust that the European Parliament will continue to keep EFSA under close scrutiny. In our view the GMO Panel, in particular, should be dismantled and re-formed; and we agree that all of its decisions on GMO crops and foods should be revisited while a moratorium on any further approvals is put in place.
The chair of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) management board Diána Bánáti has resigned from her position (1) following pressure from the European Parliament, and the Greens in particular, over conflicts of interest. Tomorrow, the European Parliament will vote on the EU 2010 budget discharge, with questions hanging over the budgets of a number of EU agencies due to conflicts of interest.
The Green group, which first drew attention to the conflict of interest with Ms Bánáti's dual roles with EFSA and the industry lobby group International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) (2), welcomed the announcement, with Green MEP José Bové stating:
"The clear conflict of interest in Ms Bánáti's role with ILSI made her position as EFSA chair completely inappropriate and untenable. Against this background, resignation was the only option and we only regret that it has taken so long for the agency to come to its senses.
"Given the sensitive nature of EFSA's work, especially as regards the authorisation of GMOs, the need for the independence of its staff and board is essential. The presence of key staff and board members with direct links to the food industry is not acceptable. Ms Bánáti's resignation is a first step to cleaning up the agency."
Commenting on the implications for the EP vote tomorrow, Green budgetary control spokesperson Bart Staes MEP (3) added:
"The resignation of Ms Bánáti vindicates the European Parliament's efforts to draw attention to and root out conflicts of interest at the EU agencies (3). These conflicts of interest are not just limited to EFSA, with the European Medicines Agency being another prime culprit. Agencies like EFSA and the EMA, which deal with the authorisation of goods and items that have direct implications for public health and safety, must act completely independently and any possible conflict of interests with industry must be ruled out. This is both in the public interest and in the interest of the agencies themselves, and the credibility of their work.
"MEPs voting tomorrow must take account of this in their decision on whether or not to grant a discharge to the budgets of the affected agencies. It is also essential that the European Court of Auditors stop delaying the publication of its report on conflicts of interest at the agencies. It is in the public interest that this report is published and the ECA must stop sitting on it."
(1) EFSA announcement http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/120509.htm
(2) See the Greens/EFA statement from September 2010: www.greens-efa.eu/efsa-and-gmos-2628.html
(3) Bart Staes was part of an EP delegation, which visited EFSA last week to discuss this issue.
The EU Ombudsman criticised EFSA for mishandling the case of Suzy Renkens who went from EFSA's GMO panel to become a lobbyist for Syngenta.
New briefing: The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a corporate lobbygroup written to the European Parliament in anticipation of the vote on 10 May in plenary session on the EFSA 2010 budget. A letter signed by Corporate Europe Observatory, Earth Open Source, Testbiotech and Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) introduces a new briefing, focusing on the problematic links between EFSA panel members and the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), an industry lobby group. See also two important PDF files available via this web page.