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European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection
EFSA: Excellence, integrity and openness
Inaugural meeting of the Management Board of the European Food Safety Authority
Brussels, 18 September 2002
Today is an important and indeed notable day in the evolution of the European Union.
I am conscious that I am not just speaking to you, fifteen members of the Management Board. As this is an open meeting, I am also speaking to the 370 million consumers of the European Union. I know I also speak to the wider global community and our trading partners.
This inaugural Management Board meeting marks formally the establishment of the much-awaited European Food Safety Authority. It brings into being one of the key components of the Commission's food safety strategy.
As the Commissioner responsible for food safety, I am delighted to welcome you all and delighted to launch the Authority as it embarks on its ambitious journey.
When I came into office in 1999, public confidence in our food supply and also in the system designed to protect consumers was at all time low.
The challenge was obvious. I was determined to pick up the gauntlet and change the situation. Not as a knee-jerk reaction but through measured, targeted and well-planned actions to address the weakness of our structures and to regain consumer confidence in our food supply.
A thorough overhaul of food law was necessary. We needed to boost our capabilities to address the complex scientific issues that lie at the very heart of the food safety.
White Paper on Food Safety
The White Paper on Food Safety of January 2000 set the stage for fundamental and far-reaching root and branch reform of European food law. In the White Paper I proposed the establishment of the Food Safety Authority.
We have acted rapidly and decisively to bring about the changes mapped out in that document. Since then, the Commission has put forward many legislative proposals including those on hygiene, labelling, GMOs, feed. Others still are in the pipeline.
Food law is underpinned by scientific information. For the future, the Authority will provide this vital component.
The various scientific committees, managed by the Commission services, have provided a tremendous service over the years, and I am grateful to all those who have served on these committees, for their excellent work and effort.
But with the increasing complexity and sophistication of both science and legislation, and the increasing diversity of today's food supply, it was clear that the mechanisms of the past could no longer satisfy the needs of the present and those of the future.
The quality and accessibility of scientific advice is of paramount importance to ensure effective, timely and appropriate decision-making. In future we will look to the Authority to provide that advice.
The Authority has been created with the aim of enhancing the level and integrity of the scientific constituent of regulation.
In three years time, we envisage over 250 personnel working in the Authority. This figure is not a ceiling it may well grow. There will, of course, need to be careful monitoring and assessment to ensure resources are appropriately and most effectively targeted.
I believe that many of the past food safety scares resulted from a fragmented approach to food safety. And I have addressed this fundamental weakness.
Time and again problems on the farm or in animal feed have led to problems in food. I believe that both the assessment of risk and the development of legislation should be based on the broadest possible picture.
Food Producers primary responsibility for safety
However, I have to say clearly that primary responsibility for ensuring safe food rests with producers. It is an undisputed fact that in many cases it was not a lack of legislation or public authority that was lacking, but fraud or other misapplication of legislation on the part of producers, both primary and secondary.
EFSA independent from Risk Managers
The Authority will cover all parts of the food chain. Scientific matters will be considered as a continuum from primary production right through to the consumer and our legislation will mirror this principle.
The Authority will be an independent entity responsible for providing sound scientific advice.
The operation of the Authority will ensure that there is functional separation of the assessment of scientific risk from risk management decisions.
On this, our policy is unambiguous. The Authority's independence will ensure that scientific risk assessment work is not swayed by policy or other external considerations. This is designed to guarantee its impartiality and objectivity.
Risk management on the other hand, in its widest possible sense, will remain within the domain of the Commission, the Parliament and the Council.
Risk Managers' Role
The final risk management decisions, taking into account all relevant aspects, must be the function of accountable, political structures.
Risk managers, therefore, have to take into consideration not only science but also many other matters for example economic, societal, traditional, ethical or environmental factors, as well as the feasibility of controls.
But the Authority will not operate in isolation.
We must ensure productive interaction between risk assessors and risk managers. The process of objectively establishing, analysing and scientifically interpreting the facts has to be done independently but not in a vacuum.
This calls for close collaboration, interaction and exchanges between the Authority and those charged with the responsibility of managing risk.
EFSA end to competing national science
I have the very strong expectation that the development of the Authority's reputation for independence and excellence in scientific matters appertaining to food will put an end to competition in such matters among national authorities in the Member States.
We have seen evidence of this in the past and I hope that it will over time become a thing of the past.
So, I expect that such a new approach will be fostered, from day one, by the Authority.
I also believe that the Advisory Forum will provide a strong impetus to national assessment bodies to share experiences, pool resources and underpin a proper system of scientific risk assessment for the European Union. It is absolutely necessary for this to occur so that the Authority can really be authoritative on food science.
Through the Advisory Forum, the Authority will provide central co-ordination for the efforts and resources of the national food authorities and agencies in Europe. It will provide a central focus for such networks.
Networking and the sharing of information with national agencies in Europe, with agencies in other parts of the world, and with international organisations on scientific matters, will be a major factor in the work of this new organisation.
One of the first and most important tasks that you as members of this Board will embark upon, is the selection of the Authority's Executive Director.
Once the Executive Director is in place, the staff of the Authority can be recruited and the other two components of the Authority put in place: the Advisory Forum, about which I have just spoken, and the Scientific Committee and Panels.
The Scientific Committee and Panels will be at the very heart of the Authority's work and I encourage you to set these up as soon as possible. Within Europe we have some of the top scientists and experts in the world working in the field of food safety and you will need to harness their efforts to maximum effect.
EFSA - scanning horizon
I should say that I would not wish to give the impression that we are entering a brave new world where food scares will, at a stroke, be consigned to history. It is inevitable that from time to time food safety problems will arise.
But the Authority will have its ear to the ground, monitoring and actively seeking scientific information through its networks and other scientific work. This will enable it to identify at the earliest possible moment any developing risks in the food supply so that we can take appropriate early action to contain and, hopefully, eliminate problems before they can escalate.
EFSA - Communication with public
I should also mention another important function of the new Authority that of communication. It is essential that information be effectively disseminated to consumers and society in general.
I would encourage you, in your future work of building the Authority, to consider three fundamental objectives in communication activities:
rebuilding the confidence of consumers in the European food supply;
developing credibility and consistency in the messages on food safety through openness and integrity; and
building better coherence across the Community on information concerning food safety.
The Commission and the other risk managers must of course play their part. As risk managers we must ensure that our responses are balanced, proportionate and effective, and that we communicate these coherently, explaining our reasoning for arriving at a decision.
And politicians must face up to their leadership responsibilities to give accurate and timely information. It is only in this way that we can regain the confidence of consumers.
Management Board - Independence
As the Management Board of this new organisation you will be responsible for guiding the Authority through its early development. This will be no easy task however, I have every confidence that you will succeed.
You have been appointed because of your individual expertise and capabilities and because of the personal qualities you possess.
Irrespective of your occupation or profession outside of this Board, you are here to support the build up of this Authority and to oversee its management.
You do not represent a country, a ministry or any organisation and your personal independence and commitment will be key to the success of this Authority.
I am confident, that with the skills and expertise assembled in this room, you will help build the Food Safety Authority into one of the most prestigious food safety organisations in the world.
At the risk of burdening you with high expectations your actions play a crucial part in ensuring a food safety system fit for the demands of the 21st century.
In closing, I would like to encourage you to concentrate on three key words as you build this organisation: excellence, integrity and openness.
Today you have the opportunity to start building a flagship organisation, pre-eminent in the world on food safety matters, recognised for its scientific excellence, its openness, and trusted for its integrity.
An exciting prospect I wish you every success.