The European Council has decided to reduce the budget for 2007-2013 under which EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) operates.
This implies that the projected growth of EFSA until 2013 will stop at the end of this year, well before the authority believes it has reached its full capacity.
The board has expressed concern that this would significantly reduce EFSA's ability to provide high quality independent scientific advice, and communicate findings in a timely manner.
In addition, there is a great deal of disquiet as this decision had come at a time when the authority's workload has never been heavier. New European legislation on important issues such health claims and fortification of foods, novel foods, and food additives mean that the food industry needs the EFSA more than ever.
Indeed, as of 1 January 2006, 17 old regulations have been replaced by five new, far-reaching pieces of legislation and failure to comply could lead to the closure of businesses. Food firms must know where their ingredients come from, and be able to trace unsafe food to the source.
They must also have a food safety management system based on the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) principles.
Funding has been a significant worry for EFSA in recent months. The board noted that the 2005 budget was €36 million, below the €44 million originally promised. And earlier this year, it announced that it might have to start collecting fees from food companies for its work.
The introduction of fees would mean an additional cost for companies, which also have to pay for the scientific studies and investigations they must submit. However the fees could help speed up the process of vetting ingredients for use in the bloc, according to consultants who drafted the consultation document.
EFSA management board chairman Stuart Slorach now plans to contact European institutions, including the European Parliament, to discuss this issue and will seek support for reinstating the necessary increase in the authority's budget until 2013. The board also agreed to discuss the independent EFSA Evaluation Report in March, taking into account comments received following the on-going public consultation.
The board agreed to finalise its recommendations at its June meeting.
EFSA was established two years ago as part of a package to co-ordinate food safety procedures throughout the bloc. It is meant to serve as an independent body providing science-based risk assessments relating to food and feed safety.
EFSA currently has about 70 permanent staff. Another 150 members make up the expert panels that issue scientific opinions.