Not surprisingly, there has been much discussion on the precise remit of the EFA (Article 21). The latest text aims to make clear that the EFA's primary focus will be on food and feed safety. Other issues (eg animal health and welfare, plant health, worker safety and the environment) are now identified separately. These areas could encompass issues which have an indirect effect on food safety, but will also include matters which do not affect the food chain (eg fur animals, pet food, tree diseases). What remains unclear, and will be the subject of further discussion, is the extent to which the EFA will be involved in issues that do not directly relate to food safety. We would be particularly interested to hear further from recipients on this aspect of the Proposal.
With regard to responsibility for the Rapid Alert System (RAS) (Article 34), the majority view is that this should remain with the Commission, because the RAS is seen as essentially a risk management tool. A possible compromise has also been floated, whereby the EFA would be involved in the RAS in an advisory capacity, but with the Commission retaining overall responsibility. In this context, there have also been amendments suggested to Article 33 (Emerging Risks), to facilitate the identification of such risks by systematic monitoring. Discussions on how the networking system (Article 35) will function have so far been inconclusive. The relationship between scientific studies (Article 31) and other ad hoc work remains unclear, and also how the EFA will sub-contract to institutions in Member States.
The structure of the EFA, in particular the Management Board (Article 24) and Advisory Forum (Article 26), has been considered in some depth. Most Member States continue to have concerns about the structure of the Management Board. We have suggested that the nature of the Board needs to be established ie whether it is a political body or independent. The Commission's view is that it wishes the Board to avoid political influence and pressure, but should involve key EU stakeholders. The Board would oversee the running of the EFA, and approve its work programme, Annual Report and budget.
On risk communication (Article 39), concerns have been expressed that with the EFA responsible for risk assessment/communication, and the Commission for risk management/communication, there could be mixed or confusing messages for consumers if these came from two sources. The Commission has stated that current wording would not preclude the EFA being asked to communicate one message to consumers, including risk management measures to be taken, once these had been decided by the Commission. Nevertheless, we are in addition looking for some sort of formal indication establishing close communication links between the EFA, Commission and Member States.
Finally, there have been continuing questions asked about the ability of Member States and the European Parliament to request scientific opinions (Article 28) from the EFA, without recourse to the Commission. Needless to say, this has been resisted by the Commission, which wishes to retain its right of initiative, and has claimed that the EFA would be unable to cope with the likely additional workload.
The next 'Friends' meeting is scheduled for 1 March, and will look at the General Food Law provisions; the EFA part of the proposal will be returned to on 14 March. The Swedish Presidency is still apparently aiming for a common position by early June, but this is looking increasingly ambitious given the current state of play. While supporting early establishment of the EFA, our very real concern is that there will be insufficient time to properly consider the other parts of the Proposal.