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28.06.2019 |

EFSA gene drive working group fails independence test

Gene drive, a new genetic engineering technique potentially as powerful as it is controversial, is undergoing regulatory evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). But as a majority of experts tasked to assess the technology’s potential risks have financial links with organisations developing the technology, the assessment is mired in conflicts of interest. Time for the EU Parliament to increase the pressure on the agency to tighten its independence policy.

Obvious and serious conflicts of interest are still not in the past for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA): a look at the agency’s working group on the risks associated to the gene drive technology makes this quite clear. Two-thirds of its members have financial links with organisations developing this technology. For instance, two of the appointed experts are receiving funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which in turn funds lobby work in favour of the technology. Even according to EFSA’s own, rather weak, independence policy, one of these appointments should not have been made due to obvious conflicts of interest.

So why did EFSA put together such a problematic expert panel on an issue that is this sensitive? The agency has defended its choices, stating that the appointments are compliant with its independence rules – a claim which is in one case is simply incorrect. Apart from showing that EFSA does not therefore seem to properly implement its own rules, the fact that several other grave conflicts of interest did not even trigger the policy demonstrates that there are still severe loopholes.

After so many years of EFSA’s poor implementation and partial disregard of repeated EU Parliament requests to fix its independence policy, wouldn’t it be time for Parliamentarians to step up the pressure on this EU agency?

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