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Summary of the decision in case 747/2016/PL on the European Food Safety Authority's use of the Threshold of Toxicological Concern

The case concerned how the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) uses the Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC). The TTC is a risk assessment tool based on the principle that there are exposure levels below which chemicals do not pose a significant risk to human health.

In 2014, EFSA and the World Health Organisation (WHO) hosted an expert workshop to review the science underlying the TTC concept. The conclusions of the workshop were subject to a public consultation and were published in March 2016.

The complainant, an NGO, questioned EFSA’s use of the TTC concept as it considered that it does not reflect current scientific evidence. It also said that many of the experts who took part in the workshop had conflicts of interests.

The European Ombudsman’s Office is not a scientific body and cannot take a view on the merits of a particular risk assessment tool, such as the TTC. On the basis of the review carried out in this case, the Ombudsman found EFSA’s explanations on the use of TTC to be reasonable.

Concerning the experts who took part in the workshop, the Ombudsman found that, in this particular case, EFSA was not obliged to screen them for conflicts of interests since it was reasonable for it to rely on the WHO’s prior screening of these experts.

The Ombudsman concluded that there was no maladministration by EFSA.

However, the Ombudsman suggested that EFSA see to it that experts who participate in conferences or meetings have no conflicts of interests, where the conference or meeting — like the one at issue — is organised to inform EFSA’s decision-making process, or could be perceived as doing so.