How can we trust the EU Food Safety Authority? 'Revolving door' adviser damages EFSA's image


Exchange of knowledge and a change of job is fine. But how do we deal with a former EU official who suddenly becomes a lobbyist for a seed improvement company or a biotechnology concern?

I am the contact person for the European Parliament with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In this role I last week asked the EFSA management for an explanation as to how it could be that the former head of its gentech department is now lobbying in Brussels for biotech giant Syngenta? I'm waiting for the answer.

A transfer of this kind, known in Brusselsspeak as a 'revolving door', is bad for EFSA's reputation as the authority for food safety. Such transfers make the public at large rightly suspicious when it comes to approval of the introduction of a transgenetic foodstuff. In professional football such instant transfers are normal, but in relation to scientists with strategic knowledge of government policy and food safety, simply the appearance of a conflict of interests is fatal. For that reason, it should not be possible to put your knowledge and network of contacts at the disposal of a commercial interest.

Syngenta should have to combat competitors with honest arguments, not with foreknowledge. If Monsanto can no longer be relied upon to share its strategic knowledge with public authorities or with other scientists, because the chance exists that they will take it to Syngenta, in the end this would damage the interests of the consumer and undermine food safety.

Europhiles regularly celebrate the principle of 'fair and undistorted competition'. That sounds fine, but the Syngenta affair was not raised by lobbyists or by EU institutions. That happened only when social activist organisations such as Corporate Europe Observatory made Syngenta's practices known.

Should, then, the EU offer even higher salaries to its officials? Of course not. If you want to be a public employee, then you must serve the public interest. You have a duty to keep secrets and a duty, also, to make things known. Selling your knowledge to a single party is not what you should be doing! That is why openness, and a cooling-off period for 'revolving door' advisers, would be extremely prudent.

Kartika Liotard is a Member of the European Parliament for the Socialist Party of the Netherlands. This article was first published in the Dutch daily farm sector newspaper the Agrarisch Dagblad on 3rd February 2010.