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Improved Transparency for Risk Assessment in the EU

As a partial response to the #StopGlyphosate citizen campaign, the European Union has improved the transparency on information regarding risk assessment and food toxicity. The European Food Safety Authority, the agency in charge of conducting the necessary studies to assess the safety of substances in the market, will now be required to make all information used for risk assessment available to the public. Information includes the data that the phytosanitary industry must submit to the agency.

A vast majority of the European Parliament adopted the outcome of the negotiations with the Council and the European Commission on the revised Regulation. Thanks to this measure, European authorities expect that the authorisation procedures for pesticides and GMOs will become more transparent and comprehensible in the future. The result is not the expected outcome of the #StopGlyphosate campaign, which aimed at banning its use at EU level, but it achieved an improvement for more transparency in the risk assessment process, which was long overdue.

After receiving over 1.3 million signatures, the anti-glyphosate campaign has come a long way in the fight for safer conditions in the environment and food safety. However, whereas some perceive this as a notable victory, others already point towards troubling challenges that remain [1].

Member of the European Parliament and shadow rapporteur, Martin Haüssling in the Committee for Environment and Health insists on the importance of more transparency. He stated that "The transparency gap in the approval of pesticides, genetic engineering and feed additives is finally closed. Public interest stings business secretiveness of the chemical giant and the European Food Safety Authority. Greater transparency in risk assessment and approval procedures is good for humans, animals, the environment and biodiversity. The immense public pressure has worked and makes the publication of all studies before the approval decision on toxic substances such as glyphosate mandatory. The glyphosate lobby can prepare for the fact that an extended approval in 2022 will not be automatic" [2].

For MEP Haüssling, the latest decision at the European Parliament marks a milestone for improved risk assessment. But, for others, this step might not be enough to deter the obscureness of the process and much less avoiding the authorisation of dangerous substances.

Corporate Europe Observatory (CE0) insists not only on the importance of more transparency and data availability but also data quality. For CEO, this new measure will not be enough to tackle a significant problem in risk assessment, the fact that the industry is controlling the production of regulatory data. One of the main challenges is to prioritise independent peer-reviewed literature to help avoid the strong influence that industry has on risk assessment methods. "As Monsanto already put it in 2001 in an internal email disclosed in the Monsanto Papers, 'Data generated by academics has always been a major concern for us in the defence of our products'” [3].

Yesterday's vote might be a step in the right direction, but the influence that industry has in risk assessment methods is a significant concern. The central pillar for practical risk assessment is the independence factor, and although more transparency will undoubtedly help control certain aspects in the approval process of substances and breeds introduced into the market, we need a form in which the industry does not dictate its own rules. We need to overcome the current situation where 11 out of 12 pesticide risk assessment methods are designed or promoted by industry [4].

Initiatives such as #StopGlyphosate show that citizens are concerned and engaged in protecting their food safety and the quality of the environment. Today, we see evidence that, given the right platform to do so, citizens can hold decisionmakers accountable and demand necessary changes, but the efforts need to continue.


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