Science - November 4, 2004

How reliable is ‘Dr Nutreco’s’thesis?

On Friday 5 November Ellen Hambrecht will receive her PhD for her thesis on the influence on meat quality of factors including animal transport to the slaughterhouse. What’s unusual about the thesis is the amount of involvement of multinational food and animal nutrition company Nutreco.

Hambrecht is an employee of Nutreco, was supervised by a researcher at Nutreco, and her promotor is Leo den Hartog, research director at Nutreco, whose endowed chair is financed by…. Nutreco. Professor Martin Verstegen is Hambrecht’s co-promotor.

How independent is Hambrecht’s research really, Mr Verstegen?
‘That’s a very realistic question, but I can assure you this is a real Wageningen PhD thesis that will pass the test of criticism with flying colours. A number of chapters have already been published in the Journal of Animal Sciences, an American journal that is know for its critical stance, certainly when it comes to European research.’

Do you know for sure that none of the research results have been withheld because of business interests?
‘I am sure that this has not happened. I had regular work-in-progress sessions, and there was never any evidence of information being withheld. If I had had even the slightest suspicion that something like that was going on, I would have withdrawn immediately. We had a verbal agreement that I would supervise Ellen Hambrecht. No, I have no ounce of doubt about the quality or integrity of the research.’

Did you not sign a contract beforehand that ensured that the results would be disclosed?
‘No, in this case I did not. When we collaborate with companies on research that comes under Technology Foundation STW, then the latter arranges matters. This time we only had a verbal agreement, but that does not alter anything. If I had any doubts I would not have participated.’

So you did not take into account the interests of the PhD student? She could have ended up doing years of research for nothing?
‘No, you can only lose your credibility once. There is no room for compromises.’ / KV

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