Fruit and vegetables on stall piled up

EU institutions must disclose secret industry studies on chemicals in food

ClientEarth lawyers are demanding increased transparency from the European Parliament and European Council on why certain chemicals allowed in food are considered safe.

The European Commission has recently proposed reforming the General Food Law regulation, which promises to increase transparency about the assessment of the risk of substances ending up in our food, such as pesticides or the chemicals that might leach into food from packaging.

In a document published today, lawyers from environmental organisation ClientEarth have called for the proposal to be considerably amended to deliver on its promise.

The proposal shows that the Commission reacted to the public’s demands not to have decisions made based on secret industry studies. It would force the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) to publish industry studies that, for example, analyse the impact of pesticides – such as glyphosate, the active substance in Roundup – on people’s health and the environment.

However, the proposal falls short of delivering the changes needed. While it guarantees more documents will be published, it leaves too much room for EFSA to redact key information that those studies contain, making their publication meaningless.

For example, the proposal allows the industry to make broad confidentiality claim to protect ‘intellectual property rights’, when in practice very little information contained in industry studies actually concern trade secrets.

The right given to industry to make broad confidentiality claims is even more dangerous considering that the proposal restricts the right of the public and NGOs to access commercially sensitive information, even when disclosure is of public interest.

ClientEarth lawyer Dr Apolline Roger said: “We need to be make sure the public has all the information on which EU institutions rely when deciding if a chemical is ‘safe’ enough to end up in food or the environment. This is the only way to restore public trust and, importantly, to empower civil society and independent researchers to scrutinise decisions authorising products on the market.

“It is in the interest of EU institutions to get civil society and independent researchers on board. Transparency will also become a strong incentive for companies to provide accurate and up-to-date data, which may avoid the repeating past abuses.

“The Commission promised to increase transparency and restore trust following food related scandals. We welcome some improvements, in particular regarding the active dissemination of pesticide-related documents, but are concerned that key information they contain might become even more difficult to obtain.

“The proposal needs to deliver real progress for transparency, and this means not allowing broad confidentiality claims. It also must not restrict the right of the public and NGOs to request access to confidential information when disclosure is of public interest, something EU law guarantees.”

“It is now up to the European Parliament and Council to fix these problems and be the champion of transparency for the public they represent.”

ClientEarth’s full analysis of the European Commission’s new provisions on transparency in its reform of the General Food Law can be viewed here.

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