The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has hit back at claims from the UK’s largest union which appealed for stricter controls for the agency.
Unison’s call was based on a Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) report which assessed EFSA’s independence.
EFSA wants a risk-based approach to meat inspection and UNISON believes the move could pose a health risk to consumers in the UK and Europe.
EFSA's scientific advice
An EFSA spokesperson told FoodQualityNews.com that it provides independent scientific advice to inform decisions of policy makers about food-related risks.
“In 2010, EFSA was asked for scientific advice on the possible introduction of a risk-based approach to meat inspection, at all relevant stages of the meat production chain.
“EFSA identified and ranked public health hazards – biological and chemical – in meat and assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the current inspection methodology.
“EFSA’s experts concluded that current inspection methods do not enable detection of some important hazards and do not differentiate food safety aspects from meat quality aspects.”
No substitute for hands-on inspection
Paul Bell, UNISON national officer for meat inspectors, said there is no safe substitute for hands on meat inspection.
“Inspectors tell us that simply looking at a pig carcass will not deliver the high standards of protection of safety and quality that consumers have a right to expect.
“There is a real danger that ending physical inspection, will lead to meat containing an abscess or tumour getting into the food chain. It will be minced into processed food like sausages and ham and customers will be none the wiser.”
The CEO report said that despite a recent EFSA policy designed to ensure independence of its scientific panels, over half of the 209 scientists sitting on them have direct or indirect ties with the industries they regulate.
EFSA said the CEO report assumed that experts should have no commercial ties related to any aspect of their remit and as the report authors acknowledge, this is the main factor explaining the results.
“EFSA, however, has a different approach that assesses interests in the context of the role that the expert will assume, the work that they will carry out and the remit of the scientific group,” said the spokesperson.
“Nevertheless, no-one employed by industry or as a full-time consultant can be an expert on an EFSA Panel or Working Group.
“It is also important to remember that EFSA’s opinions are the outcome of collective deliberations, with each expert having an equal say. No one expert can unduly influence the decisions of the panel, and minority views are recorded.”
Bell said that consumers need to know that any decisions about meat inspection are being made in their best interests and it seems that it is not the case.
“This survey casts many doubts over how the decision to change the inspection regime was made. It cannot be right that such a potential conflict of interest between the EFSA and consumers is allowed to continue.
“In light of this information the government should put any further decisions about meat inspection on hold until tougher controls are made on the EFSA.”