EFSA budget plateaus despite growing workload

"Staffing is set to be reduced by 10% over the five year period 2013-2018 and then remain stable until 2020, and the budget over the next five years will, at best, remain stable." © iStock.com / Piotr Adamowicz

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has announced plateauing budgets for the next three years and staffing reductions of 10% running up to 2018 – despite its increasing responsibilities.

EFSA’s total used budget for 2015 was €79.5m, while the budget for 2016 has been set at €79.41m, €79.42m for 2017 and €79.57m for 2018 and 2019, according to EFSA’s Programming Document 2016-2019 released yesterday.

The risk assessment authority said efficiency measures would be needed to help balance the books.

“In the coming years, EFSA will continue to execute its core and supporting activities in line with EU legislation. This will be challenging as the Agency’s resources are becoming scarcer, as is the case with other
public organisations – staffing is set to be reduced by 10% over the five year period 2013-2018 and then remain stable until 2020, and the budget over the next five years will, at best, remain stable."

There were 520 staff members in 2014, which will fall to 519 by 2019. 

“At the same time, there is an increasing demand for additional services – such as support through greater clarity of procedures to applicants for regulatory products (the gains of

which could partially balance out the costs in the medium to long term) – as well as for more self-tasking on general scientific assessment priorities.”

EFSA did not respond to our request for comment in time for the publication of this article. 

Increasing pressures

One such additional responsibility are novel foods applications, which previously fell to member states but will now be sent directly to EFSA for consideration.

Under the revised regulation, fees for the applications have also been dropped to encourage submissions from smaller companies.

EFSA said greater cooperation with member state and international scientific assessment bodies presented one route for improving efficiency as did emerging technologies to standardise and automate routine tasks.

New technologies like crowdsourcing platforms and artificial intelligence were mooted as the future of risk assessment last year at EFSA’s second scientific conference in Milan.

The authority has also been under increasing pressure to improve transparency, which has prompted the release of plans for an ‘Open EFSA’.

Last year the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ordered EFSA to provide NGO Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe details of which panel experts made which exact changes during the redrafting of a pesticides safety opinion.

EFSA said the ruling could be applied retrospectively, which could present a huge administrative burden. 

At the Milan event, executive director Dr Bernhard Url told us this decision could also have serious implications for the scientific process.

“I think that science needs parts of the process in a closed room and then many steps of the process in an open atmosphere. But I think it also needs a protected room where they can speak completely freely, openly and challenge each other. That’s also science.”

Science remains central to the authority's agenda, however, with such projects accounting for a significant chunk of the annual budgets.

“The proposed budget of €10.50 million (rounded) for scientific projects in 2017 is comparable to the approved 2016 budget of €9.78 million (rounded) for the same activities, and reflects the importance for the Authority of the budget allocated for such projects,” EFSA wrote in its programming document. 

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