Internship at the European Food Safety Authority

As you might know from previous posts of this blog, students of the Ecotoxicology Master’s Program spent the last summer term in internships at external organisations such as industrial companies, universities, research facilities or authorities. This time, student blogger Lara reports on her experience with the AMEO module at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy.

What is EFSA and how does it operate (in the field of pesticide risk assessment)?

The EFSA fulfils various duties concerning food and feed safety, risk communication, and is responsible for the regulation and admission of pesticides for the European market. Further, the EFSA publishes both Scientific Opinions and Guidance Documents on current topics of environmental risk assessment. These publications are treated as “work in progress” as they are modified and updated according to the latest state of scientific evidence.

For example, recently, concerns were raised on whether the prevailing state of pesticides’ risk assessment would be protective enough for amphibians and reptiles, for which, no separate risk assessment is currently conducted. Instead, these species have been considered protected by the risk assessment for birds and mammals.

However, recent research suggests that amphibian and reptile populations are in decline within the EU, making them the two most threatened vertebrate species groups (Cox & Temple, 2009; Temple & Cox, 2009). One possible reason for this decline discussed in the literature is exposure to pesticides (Boone et al., 2007; Mingo et al., 2016). To account for the potentially detrimental

Rana sp. and Lacerta sp. as representatives of European amphibian and reptile fauna, for which the state of protectiveness under the current standard of risk assessment for pesticides is being re-evaluated (photos by L. Petschick).

impact of pesticides, EFSA received a mandate to develop a Scientific Opinion by a scientific expert group – the “Amphibian and Reptile Working Group”. Their task was to investigate, whether the current state of standard risk assessment for pesticides is protective for amphibians and reptiles, and to then decide whether the pesticide risk assessment needs to be adapted in order to protect the European herpetofauna better.

My short-term study visit:

Within the scope of the AMEO-module, I spent two months at the European Food Safety Authority for a so called short-term study visit in the Pesticide Unit. I was supporting the Amphibian and Reptile Working Group with an extensive literature search and review on life-history traits of the European herpetofauna. The central goal of this review was to gather data from the available literature on amphibians’ and reptiles’ (1) migration patterns, (2) their presence within agricultural landscapes, and (3) size measurements of surface waters which are used as breeding sites by amphibians.

This information might serve as a starting point to estimate amphibians’ and reptiles’ exposure to pesticides, which is crucial for risk assessment.

What were my opportunities during my stay?

To present and discuss the results of my review, I participated in one of the working group meetings of EFSA. This meeting gave me a unique opportunity to meet external scientific experts and to receive helpful feedback for my previous and proceeding work at the EFSA.

In addition, at the end of my study visit, I presented a scientific poster with the results from my review at EFSA’s Conference on “Environmental risk assessment of pesticides: 25 years of scientific advancements since the adoption of Directive 91/414/EEC”.

Thus, my stay at the EFSA offered me plenty of opportunities to broaden my understanding of environmental risk assessment, get first-hand insights into the work of a European authority and to experience an international working context.

Further reading:

Boone, M. D., Cowman, D., Davidson, C., Hayes, T., Hopkins, W., Relyea, R. A., … & Semlitsch, R. (2007). Evaluating the role of environmental contamination in amphibian population declines. Amphibian Conservation Action Plan.–IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, Gland (Switzerland) & Cambridge (UK), 32-36. Link

Cox, N.A. and Temple, H.J. (2009). European Red List of Reptiles. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. Link

Mingo, V., Lötters, S., & Wagner, N. (2016). Risk of pesticide exposure for reptile species in the European Union. Environmental Pollution, 215, 164-169. Link

Temple, H.J. and Cox, N.A. (2009). European Red List of Amphibians. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. Link