The Council for Agriculture and Fisheries reached an agreement on 28 June to establish a European Food Authority (EFA), which should be up and running by 2002. The EFA will employ 250 people and have an initial annual budget of 40 million euro. The agreement of the EFA was one of the final agreements under the Swedish Presidency 'I first broached this subject in 1998, so I am pleased to have been able to carry the issue so far forward', said the Swedish Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Margareta Winberg. The new authority will have the core task of providing independent scientific advice on food issues. The EFA will have six main tasks: - providing independent advice on food safety issues, animal welfare, nutrition and GMOs, to the Commission, European parliament and Member States - advising on technical food issues - collecting and analysing data related to food safety - identification and early warning of emerging risks - providing support to the Commission in case of crisis - communicating to the public on all matters in its mandate. The EFA will be a separate legal entity in order to ensure its independence. An executive director will be advised by a forum made up of representatives drawn from the equivalent bodies in all the Member States. The director will work with a management board made up of 16 individuals. It is proposed that Commission, Council and Parliament will all propose four board members, and four board members will represent consumer organisations. The management board will supervise the work of a general scientific committee, which in turn will supervise the work of eight scientific panels dealing with specified areas. The eight panels are expected to deal with: - food additives, flavourings and material in contact with food - additives in animal feed - plant health, plant protection products and their residues - GMOs - dietetic products, nutrition and allergies - biological hazards (including TSE and BSE issues) - contaminants in the food chain - animal health and welfare. This will allow the EFA to inform and review decisions taken by the EC, particularly in response to crisis such as BSE. Aware that food issues can be particularly contentious, the EFA has the explicit brief of identifying sources of conflict between its scientific opinions, to resolve that conflict if possible, but if not, to present a joint document clarifying the contentious scientific issues. The EFA will also maintain its independence by requiring its members to register special interests and holding some of its meetings in public. The proposed structure of the EFA is based on the lessons learnt from the practical experience of the work of the committees in the last few years. It is hoped that the past serious delays in delivering advice and the lack of in-house expertise will be overcome.