European Food Safety Authority

EFSA: New members for GMO Panel

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has today revealed the names of the scientists that will sit on the GMO Panel until 2012. Four of the 21 panel members come from Germany. Joachim Schiemann of the Institute for Biosafety of Genetically Modified Plants is leaving the panel after six years.

Prof. Joachim Schiemann is leaving EFSA’s GMO Panel. “I enjoyed the constructive, open-minded and highly professional scientific debates on the GMO Panel.” Three questions for Joachim Schiemann: see below

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is responsible for risk assessment in the area of food and feed in the European Union. Together with national agencies, EFSA has a duty to provide independent scientific advice. EFSA’s scientific statements form the basis of political decisions taken by the European Commission and the European Parliament.

EFSA’s GMO Panel is responsible for conducting scientific risk assessments of genetically modified organisms, and its members are international experts. The four German representatives on the new GMO Panel come from federal scientific bodies. Detlef Bartsch of the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and Annette Pöting of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment have been members of the panel for years and have been reappointed. Christoph Tebbe (Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute) and Gerhard Flachowsky (formerly of the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute) are new panel members.

Dr. Annette Pöting is a food toxicologist at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in Berlin, where she has been involved in safety assessments of genetically modified food, novel foods and food additives at national level. In the past she has been actively involved in expert groups of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and EFSA as an invited expert on food safety issues.

Prof. Detlef Bartsch is head of the Coexistence and GMO Monitoring unit of the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) in Berlin. As part of his research work at RWTH Aachen University, Prof. Bartsch has focused over the years on ecological issues connected with GM sugar beet and GM maize, including possible impacts of GM maize on non-target organisms.

Prof. Gerhard Flachowsky was until recently head of the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health of the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute (FLI) in Braunschweig. He is an expert on food physiology and feeding studies with farm animals, is a member of the EU’s Scientific Committee on Animal Nutrition (SCAN) and a consultant for the German Research Foundation.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Tebbe Prof. Christoph Tebbe is head of the Microbiology and Molecular Ecology working group at the Institute of Biodiversity of the Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute, the Federal Research Institute for Rural Areas, Forestry and Fisheries in Braunschweig. Among other things, the institute develops new molecular methods for investigating the effect of transgenic plants on the genetic diversity of the microbial communities in the soil.

Because of Joachim Schiemann’s appointment as head of the Institute for Biosafety of Genetically Modified Plants at the Julius Kühn Institute in Quedlinburg, EFSA thought there might be a conflict of interests. Joachim Schiemann had been a member of the GMO Panel since 2003, and from 2000 to 2003 was a member of the EU Commission’s Scientific Committee on Plants, which conducted safety assessments of genetically modified plants before the existence of EFSA.

“EFSA must continue to work as a politically independent institution”

Three questions for Joachim Schiemann on his work on the GMO Panel:

GMO Safety: Prof. Schiemann, would you have liked to stay on the GMO Panel?

Joachim Schiemann: I really regret the decision of the EFSA hierarchy. I would have liked to carry on working on the panel for another three years. I enjoyed the constructive, open-minded and highly professional scientific debates on the GMO Panel over the years. It was also a place where you could learn a lot from fellow scientists. As a result, the panel’s statements are scientifically very sound.

GMO Safety: What was day-to-day work on the GMO Panel like?

Joachim Schiemann: There are of course the GMO Panel meetings in Parma, where EFSA has its registered offices. Those take place around ten times a year. Then there were meetings of the environment working group, which I was part of, and meetings of ad-hoc working groups that drew up large numbers of opinions. In the environment working group the latest publications from biosafety research and environmental risk assessments are circulated by email almost every day and discussed. This makes for a very substantial amount of work. When preparing scientific statements, all the latest scientific data is assessed and discussed in great detail. Of course, studies that describe potential negative environmental effects of GMOs are discussed particularly intensively.

GMO Safety: And what is your personal conclusion?

Joachim Schiemann: In my view, the European decision to establish EFSA as an independent scientific institution six years ago was a very important one. The strict separation of risk assessment by EFSA and risk management by the European Commission in collaboration with the EU member states forms the basis for professional food safety assessment. It has further strengthened consumer protection in Europe. Through its independent experts, EFSA provides a scientific basis for assessment and does so in a transparent manner, so that politicians can make the right decisions. EFSA must continue to work as a politically independent, science-based institution in future.