Food safety chief denies ‘conflict of interest’ accusation
European Food Information Council ‘serves’ industry, says Green party spokesman
FSAI chief Alan Reilly has said he was mandated to work with the food industry. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
The chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has rejected any idea that a conflict of interest exists in his work with a European body which gets funding from the food industry.
Alan Reilly said he was mandated to work with the food industry, and his chairing of a group in the European Food Information Council (Eufic) was part of that function.
The work he did was on a voluntary basis, he said. “If I was receiving some type of fee I would say ‘well you’re sailing too close to the wind there’, but no, I don’t - and there isn’t any conflict of interest,” he told The Irish Times.
“Would people get worked up about us working with Nestlé here to reduce the amount of salt in food? You have to work together, it’s that simple. We maintain our independence from industry, but that doesn’t say we ignore them and work in a vacuum,” he added.
“What I do is chair meetings of a group of eminent scientists from all over Europe. That’s all I do - there is no connection to industry,” Prof Reilly said.
He added: “We are looking at some of the thorny problems, some of the real hard issues, and translate that into easy messages to communicate.”
But Seamus Sheridan, Green Party spokesman on agriculture, food and marine, said there was an “absolute conflict of interest”. “Eufic if you look on its main web page it is there to interpret scientific papers that best serve the industries it represents,” he said.
“Talk to them but don’t chair their scientific advisory board,” Mr Sheridan added.
He said he wanted Minister for Health James Reilly and chairman of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Michael Gibney to make a statement on the matter.
The European Food Information Council is based in Brussels and, according to its website, it “communicates science-based information on nutrition and health, food safety and quality, to help consumers to be better informed when choosing a well-balanced, safe and healthful diet”.
It gets most of its almost €2 million annual funding from its members in the food and drinks industries and for projects from the European Commission. It is governed by a board of directors which is elected from member companies, which are AB Sugar, Ajinomoto Sweeteners Europe, Bunge, Cargill, Cereal Partners, Coca-Cola, Dow Seeds, DSM Nutritional Products Europe Ltd., Ferrero, General Mills, Kraft Foods (Mondelez), Mars, McDonald’s, Nestlé, PepsiCo, PureCircle, Südzucker, Unilever and Zoetis.
Prof Reilly is chairman of the council’s scientific advisory board, which also includes academics, government regulatory officials and the former chief nutrition scientist of Unilever.