August 11 2011
By an ordinance dated January 7 2010, a new safety agency was created: the Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES). ANSES is a public administrative body whose main task is to protect human health from environmental threats. 'Environmental' is understood in the broadest possible way, as encompassing all circumstances, objects and conditions that surround people. This includes threats created by products. Operational since July 1 2010, ANSES reports to the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Environment, Labour and Consumer Affairs.
Comments published at the time of ANSES's creation focused on the fact that it resulted from the merger of two health and safety agencies: the Food Safety Agency(1) and the Agency for Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety.(2) One-and-a-half years on, it is time to review ANSES's missions, powers and position among the other French safety agencies.
ANSES's main task is to assess the safety of consumer products and to provide the relevant authorities with information about any potential risks to human health. It also provides the expertise, scientific and technical support necessary to draft legislation. It can essentially propose any measure in order to protect public health. In addition, ANSES intervenes to protect animal health and welfare (eg, it undertakes missions regarding medicines for use by vets) and plant health.
In carrying out its missions, ANSES applies multi-disciplinary and scientific expertise. It calls on scientists from all fields and origins, and works with a total of 19 laboratories.
ANSES is an active member of several European information networks and sits on various international bodies, including the World Health Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
ANSES also works within the spheres of competence of European agencies such as:
Moreover, it exchanges information through European and international networks in order to find out, as soon as possible, about any potential dangers. This exchange of information also helps to avoid any unnecessary duplication of work through the sharing of skills and resources.
ANSES may, on its own initiative, issue opinions or reports, although 80% of the time it reacts to requests from ministers, public institutions or officially approved bodies (eg, consumer associations or environmental protection associations). Opinions are shorter than reports, which generally involve extensive scientific analysis.
To allow ANSES to make credible and effective recommendations, the Public Health Code explicitly states that ANSES can access information held by any individual or legal entity, and that professional, industrial or commercial confidentiality may not be invoked against its requests for information.(3) However, experts engaged by ANSES are bound by professional confidentiality.(4) This means that information protected by industrial or commercial confidentiality may be used by ANSES in order to reach its conclusions, but will not be mentioned in the published opinion.
ANSES has been the focus of media interest since it released two publications at the end of 2010.
On October 19 2010 ANSES published an opinion on health issues relating to lighting systems that use light-emitting diodes (LEDs). LEDs are used in a large number of electrical devices because they play a role in energy saving. ANSES recommended that only LEDs belonging to risk groups similar to those of traditional lighting systems should be accessible to the general public, with higher-risk lighting systems being reserved for professional use. It also made various recommendations concerning consumer information, modifications of the standards in force and the need for further expert research into health issues resulting from artificial lighting.
On November 25 2010 ANSES published an expert report on risks relating to weight-loss diets (eg, low-carbohydrate diets). The report alleged that such diets may cause serious nutritional imbalances and be linked to increased cancer rates. This sparked a debate in the scientific community and was followed by a public consultation which ended on January 15 2011. On May 4 2011 ANSES issued an opinion confirming its first report and recommending, notably, that the process of weight loss be supervised by specialists such as doctors.
Apart from ANSES, there are three other major administrative bodies that are also responsible for assessing the safety of consumer products. These are:
The table below sets out the functions of each body.
|Publication of opinions or recommendations||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Advice to public authorities||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Identification of accidents||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Power to impose penalties (eg, corrective measures and product recalls)||No||Yes||Yes||No|
The existence of multiple authorities with overlapping responsibilities gave rise to a legislative report published in October 2010. One of its recommendations recognised the need to "clearly define the distribution of powers between administrative authorities in the same field of competence in order to avoid any duplication".(5)
Further mergers of consumer safety authorities are therefore possible.
For further information on this topic please contact Christine Gateau or Perrine Bertrand at Hogan Lovells (Paris) LLP by telephone (+33 1 53 67 47 47), fax (+33 1 53 67 47 48) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).
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