It said the relocation of the meetings should “encourage scientific dialogue with its stakeholders.”
The initiative, said the risk assessor, follows feedback it received after last year's open plenary meeting of the Panel on Food Contact Materials, Enzymes, Flavorings and Processing Aids (CEF), which was the first one to take place in the Belgian city.
The next two open events in Brussels are the plenary meeting of the Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA), which takes places on 22 to 24 April 2015 and that of the Panel on Plant Health (PLH), which is slated for 27 to 29 May 2015.
When asked whether the Authority would incur significant costs due to transferring the open plenaries to Brussels, a spokesperson told us: "Normal Panel meetings are still held in Parma and they are the lion’s share of plenaries."
The EU risk assessor has also revised its guidelines for observers, increasing the number of possible attendees per meeting.
EFSA said it will now provide 15 seats on average for each open plenary meeting instead of ten, and anyone wishing to attend the events can now register online via its website.
Registration will now close earlier, 21 days before the meeting instead of 14 days, and attendance will be confirmed earlier. “This will give confirmed observers more time for travel arrangements,” said EFSA.
Since March 2012, nearly 250 observers, comprising representatives from industry, academia and consumer groups and other interested parties, have attended 28 open plenary meetings, notes the risk assessor.
‘Commercial’ players said to dominate forum
EFSA says the relocation of open plenaries is part of its move towards an open science organization.
However, not all stakeholders are in favor of EFSA’s open plenary approach.
The not for profit group, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), in a joint submission to EFSA's public consultation on its transparency policy last October, said:
“Most ‘openings’ to ‘stakeholders’ are usually dominated by commercial players due to their substantial financial resources. Is such openness really helpful to improve EFSA's work?
This has been a complicated debate but in the end we thought not, and therefore asked for these meetings to no longer be accessible to the public in order to protect scientists' free speech rights - we have on the other hand asked for improved, exhaustive minutes of these meetings to be published after the work is completed so that transparency is still provided without undermining the integrity of the work,” said the organization.
In its stated objective of further increasing transparency around its risk assessment work, last month EFSA released guidance for statistical reporting that it says will make it easier to understand and repeat statistical analyses used in its scientific assessments.
“The document helps study authors to explain ‘what was done and how it was done’ in a standardized and harmonized way by providing a step-by-step check list of reporting requirements,” said the Parma based EU risk assessor.
Martin Pigeon, researcher at CEO, to us he welcomed such an initiative: “Streamlining the reporting requirements should allow companies and scientific bodies to better judge the quality of studies submitted to the Authority. We have been calling for EFSA to move in this direction for a long time and we applaud the use of language such as ‘reproducibility of results’ and ‘transparency objectives’ in the report. But we hope this is just the start of the conversation, and not the answer to the bigger debate on how best to integrate studies sent to EFSA for product assessment into the normal work of the scientific community."
EFSA said the guidance, once finalized, can be applied to statistical reporting in scientific outputs produced by it, or on its behalf, as well as studies sent to the Authority as part of a dossier for the evaluation of food and feed additives, pesticides or health claims. Applicants should document a study’s objectives, sources of data, overall design, data quality, analysis methods, results and interpretation, according to EFSA’s report.