The European Ombudsman has upheld a complaint, made by a representative group of hunters in the EU, against the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The representative group (which goes by the acronym FACE) made a complaint against the EFSA in December 2021, claiming that the EU food safety body took too long to deal with FACE’s request for documentation, which the latter said prevented if from engaging in a consultation on the banning of lead shot around wetlands.

This ban has since been adopted by the institutions of the EU and is due to come into force on February 15, 2023. A working group has already been set up in Ireland to determine the impact of the ban here.

In July 2019, the European Commission asked the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to assess the risk of lead in ammunition to wildlife and the human food chain, and to propose restrictions.

In preparation of the ECHA’s human health risk assessment, the EFSA provided the chemicals agency with information on game meat consumption and lead in game meat.

The ECHA finalised its assessment in January 2021, proposing the restriction of lead shot. A public consultation on such a ban was then opened on March 24, last year, with the closing date set for September 24.

Intending to take part in the consultation, FACE sought public access to the documents that the EFSA had provided to the ECHA. This request for documents was made on February 23, 2021, and was acknowledged by the EFSA on the same day.

The food authority said it would reply to FACE by March 16, 2021. However, on March 17, the EFSA said it was “still gathering all elements” of the request.

The was the first of several deadlines set – and missed – by the EFSA to supply the relevant documents to FACE.

All-in-all, the EFSA missed eight of its own deadlines to provide all documents to FACE, instead supplying some documents (or parts of documents) at different stages.

On June 21, the EFSA said it would reply to FACE by July 9 “at the latest”. However, three more deadlines were set and missed without FACE receiving all the documents it had asked for.

The last of these was on August 31, 2021, at which point FACE requested a review of the EFSA’s “implied refusal” to give access to the remaining document. The hunter group also said it “doubted the validity” of the data that the EFSA had supplied to the ECHA during the human health risk assessment.

The EFSA eventually supplied FACE with the final requested document on October 13, 2021. But by then, the public consultation was over.


FACE launched an official complaint with the European Ombudsman (Emily O’ Reilly, the former ombudsman of Ireland) in December 2021, arguing that, because it was unable to see what information the EFSA had supplied to the ECHA on lead in game meat, it was unable to respond to this, meaning it could not meaningfully engage in the public consultation.

In a decision issued earlier this month, the ombudsman agreed with FACE, saying that the EFSA’s handling of the document request (which included only three emails and two data tables) “constituted maladministration”.

The ombudsman’s decision said: “[This office] has consistently taken the position that access delayed is access denied. This is, unfortunately, clearly illustrated by this case… It is of utmost importance that the EU administration ensures it deals with requests for public access in a timely manner.”

Responding to the ombudsman’s decision, FACE said: “The delay was so long that the ECHA’s public consultation closed before the data became available. What’s more, when carefully checked, several issues were identified, but these could not be flagged during the consultation.”

FACE president Torbjorn Larsson said he has written to the relevant institutions requesting a reopening of the public consultation “to ensure fair play”.

“The core EU principles of transparency and the rule of law were not upheld. A change of direction is needed to ensure fair play is achieved,” Larsson added.

The FACE-affiliated group in Ireland, the National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC), echoed these sentiments, claiming: “The European Commission has handled this lead issue in a biased way from start to finish, ignoring real data and proportionality, and here we have another example of one of the arms of commission continuing that trend.”

The EFSA has until August 2, this year, to respond to the ombudsman’s decision.