Clarification is quickly needed about the possible merge between the food safety laboratories of the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) and Rikilt, says Robert van Gorcom, director of Rikilt.
Photo: Rikilit director Robert van Gorcom
The current merge negotiations have been ongoing since the summer of 2012. ‘It is taking too long’, says Van Gorcom. And substantially we are no further than two years ago.’ He is afraid that the persistent uncertainty could have negative consequences, such as postponing policy choices and investing in the NVWA laboratories. ‘Also for the employees it is nice to know what they can expect.’
In many of the conversations which are currently taking place, the Wageningen UR and Rikilt are not directly involved, Van Gorcom explains. Important bottlenecks need to be solved in The Hague – by the NVWA management and concerned ministries. For example the NVWA lab will have to pay VAT after the merge. ‘For the government this money only change hands internally, says Van Gorcom. The VAT paid by the NVWA will flow directly to the budget of the ministry of Finance. These types of issues have been discussed for a long time now and Van Gorcom believes that it is time for decisiveness. ‘I really hope that in the coming month a decision can be made.’
To not complicate the conversations any further, Rikilt (is provisionally) not involved in last weeks announced changes of the changing branding policy of Wageningen University and Research. Van Gorcom wants to give the merging partners a vote for the new name. All other institute names such as Imares, LEI and CVI will disappear as of the 1st of September.
The Rikilt director advocates the merging laboratories. He expects for example that the work will be more efficient and better programmed. ‘We are placed in the same building, we perform much of our work for the same client and on adjacent and sometimes overlapping topics’, says Van Gorcom. Yet all sorts of basic facilities cannot be shared and assignments with contracts need to be divided mutually. This is sometimes forced. ‘We sometimes do the same type of work, in the same room.’
Van Gorcom prefers that the new institute falls under the name of Wageningen University & Research. ‘If you want to position yourself as international renown knowledge and research centre, this is better as part of the WUR than for an inspectorate.’ The access to academic literature for NVWA has not been arranged and the specialised equipment can more easily be shared.
It is not the first time that NVWA and Rikilt are considering to merge their food laboratories. In September 2008 both institutes started research at the request of the former VWA on this scenario. The executed study found no large obstacles. Yet the former agricultural minister Gerda Verburg in 2010 decided that the labs would not merge. Though, the six NVWA laboratories were concentrated in the Rikilt building on Wageningen campus. In June 2012 they again started a merging process.