By: Claudia Heppner, Ph.D.
It is a great honor for me, as a European, to be working for FDA. I am one of the two Locally Employed Staff (Foreign Service nationals) currently working in FDA’s Europe Office in Brussels, Belgium.
I came to this position after serving for 12 years in the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is the European Union (EU) institution that provides independent scientific advice on existing and emerging food safety issues.
Before joining EFSA, I worked with the Secretariat of the EU’s Scientific Committee on Food. I’ve also worked for a multinational company in Belgium and the United Kingdom in the areas of pesticides product discovery and product development, including genetically-engineered plants.
With seven months at FDA under my belt, I enjoy and receive a great deal of satisfaction from my challenging new duties. Together with my colleagues, I am analyzing the range of science and policy issues under discussion in the EU’s decision-making framework. These EU issues span the breadth of FDA-regulated products and may sound familiar to some: updating and streamlining the food safety system; rapid access to innovative medicines; biotech, nanotech, novel foods, mobile and e-health; and, implementation of new legislation on tobacco and electronic cigarettes.
The EU has a complex environment for decision making, involving the “three pillars” (the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the EU) along with EU organizations that are counterparts to FDA such as the European Medicines Agency, EFSA, and various EU scientific committees.
In addition, each EU Member State (countries that are members of the EU) has its own national law-making bodies and regulatory organizations.
Only the European Commission can propose an EU law. The preparatory steps include: concept papers; a roadmap describing the timeline and significant events; impact assessments examining potential economic, social and environmental consequences; and public consultations.
I quickly learned that the European system is quite different from the legislative process and the notice-and-comment rule making system in the United States. In the Europe Office, we look at each step along the way in the EU decision-making process as a potential opportunity for strategic engagement.
Recently, I wrote a paper that analyzed what the EU is doing to strengthen food regulatory systems in Africa, China, and India. I was struck by the possibilities of what could be achieved through FDA and EU cooperation to help assure the safety of foods shipped to the United States and Europe and to improve public health around the world.
I feel fortunate to be working at FDA and to have the opportunity to broaden my professional horizons. I enjoy the dual focus on science and policy, working on medical product issues as well as foods issues, and observing how a non-EU organization like FDA works.
I look forward to continued learning and to the possibility of contributing to both the U.S. public health and – through FDA’s engagement with the EU – the EU public health.
Claudia Heppner, Ph.D., is a Senior Policy Analyst in FDA’s Europe Office