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The difficult job of the legislator

The difficult job of the legislator

To common citizens and taxpayers, the EU and national legislators appear slow in their decision making, and sometimes far from reality. Also, most people wonder if new rules and regulations are really designed and implemented to protect human health and the environment, or for other interests. Let’s try to find an answer.

First, there is a lot of politics implicated in decision making, and this makes things go slow. In the EU decisions on regulations that govern the food chain are taken by the EU legislators, that are the European Commission, European Parliament and EU Member States. These decisions cover all aspects, from how food is produced and transported to what pesticides may be used in the fields, from how food should be labelled to who controls contaminations and frauds.

The European Commission is responsible for drafting new policies or laws after consulting stakeholders and the public as well as expert advicers. The draft text is subject to intense political discussions between the EU Council – representing EU Member States – and the European Parliament – which represent citizens. When they reach an agreement, the text can enter into law.

Second, we have to see the difficult task of law-makers : they need to examine all point of views and interests – trying to not penalize one or the other, at the same time equally considering the rights of all and protect global health and environment. In the presentation to this course we introduced the six avatars-stakeholders that participate in the complex affair of food packaging and global health. They all have arguments on the issue and should have a saying on those who take decisions.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), located in Parma ITALY is the key technical and scientific advisor for food safety and related health issues to the EU.

EFSA was established in 2002 by the EU’s General Food Law. This document stated that EFSA’s task is to produce scientific advice on risks associated with the food chain to inform the decisions that European policy makers and legislators take about those risks, which may include things like authorizing pesticides and food additives or restricting their use in the EU.

A new regulation on the transparency and sustainability of the EU risk assessment in the food chain was adopted by the EU in 2019 and EFSA is currently working on implementing the changes by March 2021, when it enters into force. Changes include further transparency of data, a register for all commissioned studies, strengthened governance of EFSA and coordinated risk communication across the EU.

Today, EFSA provides scientific advice on issues such as contaminants in food, biological hazards, genetically modified organisms, food additives, vector borne diseases, but also in areas such as nutrition, environmental risk assessment and animal welfare assessments. EFSA is also working to anticipate new challenges by developing and adapting its working methods. EFSA carries out all this work in view of the main goal: the protection of consumers.

EFSA is also engaged in communicating scientific facts in ways that are clear for legislators, for industry, but also for the public, to bridge the gap between science and the consumer.

How EFSA is organized

EFSA has a staff of around 450 employees of different EU nationalities. EFSA also works together with external experts, with institutional partners at EU and national level and with the community of stakeholders. This is a huge exercise involving thousands of people within the EU and beyond. EFSA’s Scientific Panels of experts are responsible for the bulk of EFSA’s scientific assessment work.

The work of EFSA responds mostly to requests for scientific advice from the European Commission, the European Parliament and EU Member States. Around 95% of the requests EFSA receives come from the European Commission, but it also receives mandates from the European Parliament – recently, for instance, to carry out an assessment on the welfare of farmed rabbits. EFSA can also receive mandates from Member States – for example five Nordic countries asked for an assessment of a tolerable upper intake level of dietary sugars.

How do decision makers use EFSA to set rules on food and health?

EFSA’s scientific opinions provide the scientific knowledge that the legislators need to take informed decisions. That said, it is clear that other aspects such as societal, ethical and economic concerns are factored in during decision making process and this falls outside EFSA’s mandate. The role of EFSA is to provide independent scientific advice, while the legislators are charged with taking the political decisions taking EFSA’s scientific advice into great account.

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Consumer and Environmental Safety: Food Packaging and Kitchenware

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