Science - November 1, 2016

‘Wageningen was pressured into changing report’

Text:
Rob Ramaker

Researchers of Wageningen might have adjusted a report upon request of the former Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. This was reported this morning by the newspaper Trouw.

The 2010 report, drawn up by Wageningen Economic Research (the former Agricultural Economics Research Institute - LEI), investigated why Dutch pisciculture was declining. As the ministry was the client, it was given interim access to the report. From internal email exchanges and documents, which were obtained using the Government Information Act, it appears that officials were worried about the impact of certain extracts upon an ongoing lawsuit.

Last June, the Dutch Socialist Party (SP) posed questions in the House of Representatives in response to the documents. This was reason enough for the Social Sciences Group (SSG) to start an internal investigation. About two weeks ago, it was decided to pass the case to the Scientific Integrity Committee (CWI). ‘The Executive Board finds integrity so important,’ says Marc Lamers, head of Corporate Communications & Marketing, ‘that they are giving the CWI the opportunity to look into this, to make sure that the judgement will be beyond any discussion.’ Lamers expects that the CWI will pass their judgement in about 7 weeks’ time. Until then, Wageningen University & Research refuses to comment on the matter.

Catfish
The lawsuit in question is about whether unfair funding was granted by the government. A farmer received funding to set up a tilapia farm. However, once it had been done, he switched to farming Claresse, a hybrid breed of catfish. Meanwhile, farmers of African catfish did not receive any funding. They perceived this as unlawful competition and went to court. According to Trouw, the ministry sees no point in a recovery procedure, ‘because it would cause too much fuss’. However, the ministry stated in its defence that Claresse and African catfish are two different products.

An interim version of the LEI report seems to subvert this conclusion. The emails show that the report originally stated that ‘it cannot be ruled out that in some market segments, African catfish is being substituted by Claresse; current data is insufficient to be able to establish whether this is the case.’ The authors note that this will raise questions during the ongoing lawsuit. The final report states: ‘The product Claresse differs from the African catfish in colour and texture of the fillet.’

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