Humans and animals eat food containing compounds that imitate or block the functioning of the female hormone oestrogen. These pseudo-oestrogens may have a negative impact on the sperm quality of men, cause deformation of the male reproductive organ and lead to breast or testicle cancer. The scientific evidence, however, is weak. The discussion has been going on for four years now, but scientists haven't found clear connections yet, says WAU-toxicologist Dr Bram Brouwer. The hormone system is much more complex than the scientists thought and it will take years of research to achieve scientific results. The Dutch Alternative Consumer Protection Group and Greenpeace don't want to wait until the proof is there. Greenpeace wants plastic baby dolls with softeners that contain pseudo-oestrogens to be taken off the market. Industries should have to prove that their products are safe. Otherwise the government is using children as guinea pigs.
The WAU has a research base in Costa Rica, from which agronomists, soil scientists and economists have carried out research projects over the past ten years. What started as a group of Dutch scientists doing disciplinary fieldwork without paying attention to the work of other scientists and local organisations, has developed into an interdisciplinary method of studying sustainable land use. The WAU scientists have combined their data in a policy supporting computer model. Part of it is system that measures the use of fertilizer and pesticides. The banana producers in the northwest of Costa Rica have started using this model - they have lowered their costs by twenty percent and decreased the negative environmental impact of these compounds by thirty percent. We have shown that environmental policy can be good business as well, states soil scientist Dr Johan Bouma, head of the research team. The research stronghold will close at the end of this year. We developed the tools, the Costa Ricans have to implement then, says Bouma. We will not raise a warning finger, that's development aid of thirty years ago.
WAU student Karen Bouwman wanted to do real biological fieldwork and went to the Wolong Nature Reserve in the Sichuan province of China to trace the tracks of the world famous Giant Panda. After three weeks of exploration on steep hills, she concluded that she wasn't well enough equipped to track the pandas high in the mountains. She changed her research topic to interviewing the local farmers about their influence on the habitat of the endangered pandas. She never saw any pandas in the forests, but found a few in a breeding centre in a local village
Dutch fishing is responsible for destroying biodiversity in the North Sea, concluded biologists last week. So what, retorts director Jan Willem Henfling of the DLO-institute for fishery research. You cannot harvest without affecting the ecosystem. Henfling doesn't agree that the ecosystem is being harmed by Dutch fishing. What is harm, it is a non-scientific term, it's an economic term. You cannot quantify this harm; what is the price of a sea anemone? He thinks the fishery policy is inconsistent: You cannot improve biodiversity and have an efficient branch of industry at the same time.