Wetenschap - 10 januari 2002

English summary

A year of public debate on gene technology in the Netherlands has come to an end with the presentation of the findings of the Terlouw Committee to the minister of agriculture. A number of Wageningen scientists were involved. The articles on page 1 and 3 this week are translated on the Wisp'r website: www.gcw.nl/wispr

Wageningen UR has a new chairman of the board: Aalt Dijkhuizen. CEO of the Dutch food concern Nutreco for the past few years, Dijkhuizen is no stranger to Wageningen.

Until his last appointment he was chair of the Economics of Animal Disease at Wageningen University. In general, the reactions to his appointment have been positive. ID-Lelystad researcher Professor Mart de Jong describes him as goal-oriented, enthusiastic and ambitious, although unlikely to tread on others' toes. Dr Piet de Visser, former head of Social Sciences regards him as a pleasant, open and hard working colleague. "He can be direct, but his door was always open. He can be a hard manager as well. If it's necessary he's capable of stepping in." The hope is that he will be able to demonstrate his commitment to Wageningen and its mission, which now needs consolidating after the years of reorganisation. (See page 8.)

The changeover to the euro is going smoothly in Wageningen, according to euro-coordinator Theo Brink of Human Resource Management.

While the travel cost allowance has risen slightly as a result of the conversion, canteen prices vary. Some have risen by a few cents, and others have gone down, so that the overall effect is negligible. Salaries have been converted without problems, and the only remaining obstacle is a few machines which are not yet capable of accepting euros, including the money changer in the administration building and the 'pin' machine in the central warehouse. By the end of January all problems should have been sorted out.

The food industry is busy promoting new forms of cholesterol-reducing products, including yoghurt, cheese, cookies and the typically Dutch 'drop' or licorice.

The Health Council of the Netherlands, however, has declared however that these products are not safe. A number of Wageningen scientists are on the Committee on Safety Assessment of Novel Foods, including Professor Evert Schouten of the sub-department of Human Nutrition and Epidemiology. The active ingredients in the cholesterol-reducing products are phytosterols, at present only found in expensive margarines. According to Schouten the current situation has advantages. "You only take in the phytosterols if you spread the margarine on bread, so it is easy to keep track of how much you have ingested. If the substances are added to products like sweets or meat products it becomes much more difficult to estimate what intake is. Although no negative effects of phytosterols have yet been recorded, there is a worry that high levels could lead to vitamin deficiencies. Children also need cholesterol to help the manufacture of hormones. (See page 7.)

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