The baton has been passed - and not too soon either. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has, at last, appointed the body of scientists charged with the responsibility of scientific assessment of food safety issues in Europe, previously the work of the European Commission.
Announcing the news last week, the EFSA's new executive director Geoffrey Podger said that the authority could now gets its teeth stuck into the job in hand - European food safety. "This is a major milestone," he said.
A run down of the final selection - 157 scientists in total - reveals that with 23 positions taken, Britain has the most scientists on the varying panels, followed by 19 from Germany, 17 from France, 16 from Italy and 15 from The Netherlands. The remaining scientists come from all over Europe, with one anomaly, a recruitment from Argentina.
The Scientific Committee and panels are now responsible for providing the scientific opinions of the EFSA within their individual areas of competence. The Scientific Committee itself is composed of the chairs of each of the eight panels plus a number of independent experts. Although the panels primarily operate as independent entities, the committee is responsible for the general coordination necessary to ensure the consistency of the scientific opinion procedure.
British scientist Dr. Susan Barlow will chair the Food additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food panel (AFC) composed of 16 other leading scientists. Dr Josef Rudolf Schlatter from Switzerland will head up the Contaminants in the food chain panel and for the Genetically modified organisms panel, Dr Harry Kuiper from The Netherlands. The remaining panels are Additives and products or substances used in animal feed, Plant health, plant protection products and their residues, Dietetic products, nutrition and allergies, Biological hazards and Animal health and welfare.
Since the inception of the EFSA, borne out of the White Paper on Food Safety, the Commission has been criticised for dragging its feet. Indeed, the EFSA still lacks a permanent roof due to squabbles between Italy and Finland, both hot contenders for the seat. But the news this week will be welcomed by the food industry, consumer organisations and politicians eager to see, in Podger's words, "the best available scientists working on the most important food safety issues."