The European Commission unveiled, on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, proposals to make more transparent the scientific evaluation process on which food safety authorizations are based . This reform applies to eight different sectors. In addition to phytosanitary products, it concerns transparency regarding GMOs, food additives (humans and animals), materials in contact with food and "new foods".
President Frans Timmermans declared in a communiqué : "Today, we respond to citizens' concerns by improving the transparency of decision-making, by providing better access to relevant information and ensuring that science-based risk assessment remains at the heart of the decision-making process in this sensitive area of food safety ".
Citizen pressure too strong
In December 2017, Brussels had promised to review its legislation yielding to the pressure of a petition: European Citizens Initiative (ICE) signed by more than one million Europeans. At that time, the European Commission officially adopted the new glyphosate license which ended more than two years of battle around this controversial herbicide. Opponents and supporters of glyphosate had torn apart scientific studies of the carcinogenic or non-carcinogenic nature of the most widely used herbicide in the world.
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) ranked it " probably non-carcinogenic ", paving the way for its reauthorization in the European Union, a few months after the contrary opinion by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (CIR), a body of the World Health Organization (WHO). Opponents of this herbicide had ensured that Efsa relied on studies provided by the phytosanitary industry, and in particular the American giant Monsanto, which produces glyphosate.
A new reform for greater transparency
" With this new reform, citizens will have immediate access to scientific studies that support claims ," said EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis. Thus, the reform proposed by the Commission aims to make publicly available and accessible risk assessment studies " at an early stage of the procedure ". A register to compile all the studies commissioned by companies requiring an authorization, will be created, in order to " guarantee that they do not hide unfavorable studies ". This reform would also give the European Commission the power to request additional studies from the European Food Safety Agency " in exceptional circumstances, such as a high degree of controversy around a substance
Through this reform, the European Commission also wishes to strengthen the responsibility and involvement of the Member States. They will now be asked to submit a set of candidates for an expert election to the scientific committees of the European Food Safety Agency. " It is necessary that citizens continue to believe that the system (…) works well ," said Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans at a press point. Referring to the ECI, he welcomed the fact that the action of European citizens could "have a direct impact on the political agenda of the European Union ". The Commission's proposal is now in the hands of the two European legislators, the Parliament and the Council composed of the Member States.