Last week the Advertising Code Commission examined the complaint lodged by animal rights organization Wakker Dier against Wageningen UR and the Dutch Dairy organization NZO.
Sheer advertising, says Wakker Dier. And what is more, a distortion of the facts in the scientific study the press release was based on. The Wageningen research is funded by the NZO. According to Wakker Dier it is as clear as day that the dairy organization influenced the content of the article. For this reason, says Wakker Dier, the health claims in the press release contravene the advertising code.
Nonsense, retorted Wageningen UR and the NZO. In their view there is no question of advertising, but of freedom of opinion and speech. Both parties categorically deny that the NZO in any way influenced the controversial press release. 'Inconceivable', says Wageningen UR's lawyer Jaap Kronenberg. 'It would be scientific suicide.' All accusations of influence 'are based on speculation', says the NZO's lawyer Kurt Stöpetie.
Wakker Dier sees it differently. According to the animal rights organization, it simply cannot be a coincidence that the Wageningen UR press release came out the same day that the NZO in Ede held a symposium including a lecture about the research referred to in the press release. 'Clearly orchestrated', thinks Wakker Dier's lawyer Alexander Bruinhof. 'And then they claim not to have conferred on the content? Most unlikely.'
But the Advertising Code Commission is not that far yet. The commission wants first to assess whether the milk press release can be classified as advertising. Only then will it look into whether Wageningen UR is in breach of the regulations on advertising.
'Milk statement fails to stop Wakker Dier
Wakker Dier demands an independent inquiry into the influence of external funding on science at Wageningen UR. A statement by the milk researchers has not caused the interest group to change their minds. The statement was signed by both the Wageningen researchers and Walter Willet. This Harvard professor and co-author of the study had criticized the press release earlier because it painted too rosy a picture of the effect of milk. In the joint statement the conclusions in the press release remain largely intact, with the proviso that the effects of dairy products vary depending on the products they replace in someone's diet.
Wakker Dier spokesman Sjoerd van der Wouw is sticking to his guns: Wageningen University made unsubstantiated health claims, he says. Simon Vink, spokesman for Wageningen UR, dismisses the demands out of hand: ‘They have no case, no evidence, just allegations.'