Science Council confirms the good to very good performance of BfR but also calls for further efforts
In its expert assessment report prepared at the end of 2005 and published on 19 May 2006, the Science Council testifies to the good to very good quality of the research/science-based services and sound policy advice on consumer protection issues of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment. The expert assessment report can now be accessed on the BfR homepage. The Institute assumed tasks of a high standard which were of major importance for consumer health protection in Germany and Europe. The Council was impressed by its clear scientific orientation. Both on the national and international levels the Institute was very much in demand as a cooperation partner for university and non-university research institutes and for sister institutions outside the European Union. Amongst EU institutions, in particular, the Institute was held in very high esteem. In the field of method development, the Institute enjoyed Europe-wide standing. The Institute’s concepts and projects were convincing and worthy of support. The Science Council also voiced some constructive criticism in its report. It called, for instance, for improvements to the structural framework conditions in order to limit frictional losses during the execution of its tasks, and for the introduction of a global budget. Current budget management was not suitable for carrying out excellent research, the basis for the effective assumption of statutory tasks. The Science Council recommended a moratorium on statutory staff reductions in the scientific area and greater flexibility in staff position management for the Institute which is in the process of being developed.
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment was founded in November 2002 in the course of the restructuring of consumer health protection and food safety. The goal was to separate risk assessment from risk management in order to guarantee scientific risk assessment that was not influenced by any social, political or economic interests. BfR is a public institution in the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It is based in Berlin. Besides risk assessment, its statutory remit encompasses risk communication. To this end, BfR meets with various target groups from science, politics and society in a proactive, participative dialogue. The objective is to provide information early on about possible health risks, new findings and work results with a view to increasing the confidence of the general public in state consumer protection and to promoting the rational handling of risks by society. The Science Council believes that this important task should be further developed in future.
BfR has over 600 members of staff and a budget of just under EUR 50 million. The Science Council praised the success of the Institute in securing third-party funds from the public sector. 35 of the 80 cooperation-based research projects currently being conducted by BfR are financed from third-party funds. The largest sources of funding are the EU, followed by the Federal Government and the German Research Foundation (DFG). The Institute may not seek funding from the private sector in order to maintain its independence. Secured third-party funds - according to the Science Council - must not lead to any cutbacks in basic financing.
BfR was involved in a wide spectrum of research subjects and issues, many of which were of considerable importance for science. In major areas the Institute enhanced and extended the German research landscape, for instance in the field of toxicology. The development and implementation of a cross-disciplinary research programme should, therefore, be continued within BfR.
The Science Council described the 2,000 risk assessments undertaken every year on average by the Institute in conjunction with legally stipulated procedures as being of a high standard. Its statutory testing and control tasks made a major contribution to protecting the population at large from health risks linked to foods, chemicals and consumer products. Furthermore, they were a key element in establishing legal certainty for the manufacturing industry and were, therefore, of considerable economic importance, too. BfR’s policy advice was an important element in preparing national and European legislation in the field of consumer protection. The Science Council described the concept of national and international mirror bodies in which BfR wishes to draw together the technical expertise available in the country and use it within the Institute as “convincing”.
The Science Council was also impressed by the high level of contacts between the Institute and German universities, non-university research bodies and European sister institutes as well as the Institute’s involvement in teaching and support for young scientists.
The President of BfR, Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, sees the expert assessment report of the Science Council as confirmation of the direction the Institute is moving in. “Our own research of a consistently high standard”, commented Hensel, “is the precondition for us assuming our tasks on the highest scientific level. We will continue to do this in the tried-and-tested manner with the support of BMELV.”