Wetenschap - 1 januari 1970

Mansholt Instituut krijgt erkenning

Mansholt Instituut krijgt erkenning

Mansholt Instituut krijgt erkenning

Het Mansholt Instituut, de onderzoekschool voor maatschappijwetenschappelijk onderzoek van de Landbouwuniversiteit, is op 4 juni erkend door de Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (KNAW). De Akademie oordeelt dat het doel van de onderzoekschool helder is en acht de wetenschappelijke kwaliteit van voldoende niveau

In 1997 werd de eerste aanvraag tot erkenning nog afgewezen door de KNAW, maar die stelt nu dat het Mansholt Instituut zich goed heeft ontwikkeld en zijn voordeel heeft gedaan met de kritiek. De samenhang tussen het sociologisch en economisch onderzoek is versterkt, de selectiecriteria voor toetreding tot de school zijn helder en het onderwijsprogramma voor de assistenten in opleiding is nu goed gestructureerd

Verder heeft het Mansholt Instituut tot genoegen van de Akademie meer externe financiers gevonden voor het onderzoek en prijst de KNAW het internationale karakter van het instituut. De onderzoekschool doet vijftien procent van de onderzoeksprojecten in directe samenwerking met buitenlandse universiteiten en onderzoeksinstituten

Het Mansholt Instituut, opgericht in 1994, richt zich op het ontwikkelen en toepassen van theorie├źn, methoden en modellen voor het onderkennen en analyseren van maatschappelijke problemen in de agrarische en voedselketens en de rurale gebieden. Het instituut telde vorig jaar vijftig onderzoeksassistenten (aio's en oio's) en zeventig promovendi, van wie het merendeel van buiten Wageningen komt. A.S

In some third world countries, vitamin A deficiency is a common problem. Shortages of vitamin A can lead to eye diseases, bone deformities and hair loss. To bring about a change in this situation, governments are encouraging farmers to cultivate spinach-like crops. However, according to Karin van het Hof, PhD candidate in human nutrition and epidemiology, spinach is not suitable for combatting vitamin A deficiency. Although spinach is rich in beta-caroteen, which converts to vitamin A in the body, eating the vegetable does not lead to a significant increase in beta-caroteen in the blood. When comparing the nutritional effect of vitamin supplements to spinach, peas and broccoli, spinach came in far behind the rest. This difference has to do with the manner and degree to which the nutrients are attached to other molecules

On June 15, a trade war will begin between the USA and the EU. On that day the USA will put an end to its Hormone-Free Cattle Program, in which farmers produce meat intended exclusively for the European market. Participating farmers have not been allowed to use the six hormones that farmers in the US are otherwise permitted in their meat production. The EU has responded by announcing that an import ban on American meat will therefore also go into effect at that time. It is expected that the USA will then close its borders to European products. Despite evidence from sample tests indicating that some hormones were still getting into the meat, American authorities saw no reason to monitor the farmers in the programme more closely. Instead they reacted against the European ban on hormones. In 1994 the EU signed a treaty with other members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that allowed American and Canadian meat to be sold on the European market. However, since that time a scientific committee set up by the EU has gathered more scientific evidence from within and outside the EU that suggests that the hormones in question can present serious risks to public health. According to Dr Leendert van Ginkel, of the laboratory for residue research at RIVM (National Institute of Public Health and the Environment), the USA allows the hormones to be injected into the animals via an implant in the ear. The reasoning behind this is that the ear will be thrown away anyway

Frenkel ter Hofstede, PhD candidate in Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, has developed a new method to help retail managers answer questions relating to the globalisation of markets and how to meet the demands of consumers. The international economy is becoming rapidly more globalised as consumers continue to converge. Ter Hofstede's new methodology helps identify different segments within the market. Consumer groups can no longer be defined based on international borders, but more on their tastes and preferences. After applying his methodology to 11,000 consumers in 11 countries of the EU, Ter Hofstede came up with four different market segments. One of these is particularly interested in health issues, for example

This week's translation is of an article on biochemistry, focusing on the workings of a particular enzyme.The article in Dutch is on page 8 and the English version can be found at http://gcw/nl/wisp'r/

:The potato: a silent conqueror

Mashed potato stew (stamppot). Who could think of a more Dutch dish? Only the combination of chips and mayonnaise could come close. The basic ingredient of both is potatoes - the ever-present cornerstone of Dutch cuisine. This has not always been the case, however. As late as the mid-1700s, well-to-do Dutch citizens turned up their noses at this pig feed. Only a century and a half before that, the crop was not even known to the Netherlands

The first potato to reach Europe arrived in Spain around 1570. At that time, a clever Spaniard had the brilliant idea of taking along some plants rather than just gold from inland Peru. In Sevilla, monks cleared a corner of their monastery garden to accomodate this exotic crop. They cultivated the potato and fed it to ailing patients who needed to build up their strength. This was not a simple task, however, because the original root from South America would not produce a tuber. The plant was used to 12 hours of daylight, while summer days in Europe can last longer than 16 hours. This meant that the Peruvian potato plant flowered extensively, grew into large bushes and produced long shoots under the ground - but not the desired tubers. The monks, therefore, assisted natural selection by replanting each year those plants that had produced some tubers. Together, the monks transformed the Solanum andigem (of the Andes) into what is now referred to as the Solanum tuberosum. However, exactly how the monks accomplished this is not known

For over a century, the cultivation of this crop went unnoticed. The plant itself did find its way to the then famous botanist Charles de l'Ecluse, or Clusius. He illustrated and described the plant and referred to it by the name he had once heard: taratouffli. However, Clusius did not contribute to the spread of its cultivation: he was interested in the plant, not its crop

Around the same time that Clusius heard of the potato, the tuber came into the hands of Waldenzer farmers in northern Italy. Historians still do not know the exact path this took, but it was of critical importance for the eventual spread of potato cultivation throughout Europe. These farmers were devout believers who clung to the wisdom of a rich merchant, Waldes. Waldes saw the light in 1170 and proclaimed the righteousness of poverty over the riches of the church. This did not please the Catholic authorities and the Waldenzer farmers were consequently persecuted wherever they went. As a result, they were pushed further Northward. Eventually, between 1680 and 1690, these immigrants reached the Netherlands, where they continued to cultivate potatoes mostly for their own consumption. The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was at that time a sanctuary for anyone being persecuted on the basis of race or religion. This is likely how the first potatoes came to be cultivated in the north of Holland. This is not certain, however. Another theory is that potato cultivation spread from Flanders via Zeeland and slowly conquered the rest of the Netherlands

Initially, the original inhabitants of the Netherlands wanted nothing to do with the strange crop. Only when the farmers could see with their own eyes how the crop was grown and eaten could they be persuaded to give it a try. Farmers and their families had to adjust not only to the new crop's cultivation, but also to its taste. They had to learn that the potato could be cooked like turnips and carrots. Thus, potato cultivation spread unseen throughout the Netherlands via immigration and seeing and tasting

True appreciation for the crop came decades later, starting with the poorest families. Grain crop failures resulted in famine in the middle of the 18th century, at which time grain was the most important foodstuff. The year 1740-41, for example, was truly disastrous for grain, as the ground froze earlier than usual, hampering its fall sowing. The frost continued until mid-March of the next year, followed by heavy rainfall, this combination devastating grain crops. Cold temperatures continued in the following winter, and grain prices rose to record levels. The official price index in Amsterdam rose 170%. The potato, in contrast, had not suffered as much from the weather. Harvests were quite good, and the price of potatoes became lower than for grain

In the meantime, social unrest was increasing in the cities due to the high price of foodstuffs. When even potato prices began to rise, the unrest became worse. The Staten van Holland (one of the seven Netherlands) decided to set a maximum price for potatoes. This resulted in the price difference between potatoes and grain becoming even greater, and potatoes rose higher in popularity. For years afterwards farmers could hardly produce enough to satisfy the growing demand for potatoes

The potato turned out to be a blessing for the population, especially in hindsight. With its high vitamin-C content, it was responsible for a healthy turnaround in the eating patterns of the population. Increased consumption of the potato occurred simultaneously with the gradual eradication of various common illnesses, such as scurvy and oedema, in the late 1700s and early 1800s

Thus the potato came to earn the same status in the Netherlands that it had had 8,000 years earlier among the Chibcha Indians of Peru: a highly valuably crop