Wageningen University & Research

Background

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) is a Netherlands-based research center. WUR is a collaboration between Wageningen University, a Dutch public university, and the Wageningen Research Foundation, and is made up of the university and nine research institutes.1About Wageningen University and Research,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/U7wi3 2Management & Organisation,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 16, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/GEMKD

Wageningen University is a publicly funded institution, while Wageningen University & Research is registered as a privately funded company.

According to its website, WUR’s mission is “to explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life,” and its “strength” is “its ability to join the forces of specialised research institutes and the university.”3About Wageningen University and Research,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/U7wi3

WUR writes that its research institutes, which include livestock, plant, environmental, and economics research, are “commissioned by the government, commercial businesses and non-profit organisations.”4Research Institutes,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/uSJKZ 

WUR has been criticized by its own students and academics for the organization’s connections to the agribusiness and fossil fuel industries, for producing research and impact assessments that appear to align with industry interests, and for a lack of transparency by WUR staff about their work for companies like Bayer.5Brigitte W.. “Fossil Fuelłed WUR,” The Jester, June 10, 2022. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ZJndO 

The organization justifies its collaboration with “businesses, governments and civic organisations” by writing that “research results only have an impact once they find their way into practical application in society.”6Value Creation & Cooperation,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/yKEJp 

Questions Over Impartiality of Research and Teaching

Students and faculty at Wageningen University & Research, as well as news outlets and civil society organizations, have raised concerns that corporate ties could influence research and teaching at the university. 

According to a list of WUR professors published in July 2022, Unilever has funded four professorships at WUR, BASF has also funded a professorship, and Shell has funded a professorship in “Environmental Health and Human Biomonitoring of Contaminants.”7Professors of Wageningen University – July 2022,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

BASF’s funding is not listed on the November 2022 list of WUR professors.8Professors of Wageningen University – November 2022,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 19, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

In 2020, investigative journalism outlet Zembla reported that a WUR professor of immunology, Huub Savelkoul, had publicly misrepresented the findings of a research project that he himself had helped conduct. While the study found immunological benefits to feeding chickens organically, Savelkoul wrote an article for an academic journal claiming the reverse. His article may have contributed to the government’s decision not to fund follow-up studies, Zembla reported.9Conclusies belangrijk onderzoek naar biologisch eten afgezwakt onder druk van onderzoeksinstituut TNO,” Zembla, October 22, 2020. Archived October 27, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/Ni7S8 

Lead researcher Machteld Huber told Zembla that the study’s findings did not support Savelkoul’s conclusions. According to Huber, Savelkoul said later that “it doesn’t fit my scientific image that organically-fed chicken is healthier.” Savelkoul denied Huber’s version of events to Zembla, and had stated in the academic article that the chickens had developed a “hyperactive immune system.”10Conclusies belangrijk onderzoek naar biologisch eten afgezwakt onder druk van onderzoeksinstituut TNO,” Zembla, October 22, 2020. Archived October 27, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/Ni7S8 

A December 2020 WUR report examining “the role that WUR can play in fostering transformative social-environmental change” stated:1171 Visions on our role in social-environmental transformative change,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

“Divergent perspectives were expressed around WUR funding flows, often related to tensions around whether it is ok to view research as a ‘service’. Many researchers felt this ‘impedes us from having a counter-narrative to ‘our clients’ or challenging them in their thinking’. The research institutes (WR) were perceived as vulnerable to research that ‘delivers what the client wants to have or wants to hear.’”

According to the report, researchers raised dilemmas “around the role of the private sector on campus that don’t have the best environmental reputation internationally.” One employee was quoted regarding teaching practices: “The more radical examples, we don’t do much on. We are paid by the big companies… we put plasters on the wounds.”

The report also stated: “Yet many researchers also pointed to benefits of ‘facilitating partnerships with the bigger players’: ‘Companies are realizing how dependent they are on this system, they realize resilience is needed, but they don’t know how to build it….We need to partner more with these sort of people.’”1271 Visions on our role in social-environmental transformative change,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.  

WUR has defended receiving funds from companies for teaching and research activities in which they have a vested interest. In an interview published on the WUR website, Sebastiaan Berendse, WUR’s director of “corporate value creation,” stated:13‘We need companies in order to make an impact in practice’,” Wageningen University and Research, June 22, 2021. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/HmUqd

“The scientific integrity of our research is regularly reviewed and the institutes are externally evaluated for quality. All the research financed by public money is public and accessible to everyone. And the government remains the most important financer of WUR research: 4% of the research done at the university is financed by companies. This is 15% at Wageningen Research, and the government has specifically instructed us to raise that percentage…”

Berendse added that WUR does not “work with parties who are damaging to public health, such as the tobacco industry or the weapons industry.”

When asked specifically about calls by students for the university to stop working with chemical companies, Berendse replied:14‘We need companies in order to make an impact in practice’,” Wageningen University and Research, June 22, 2021. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/HmUqd  

“I think it’s unwise to exclude [chemical companies] a priori since that means that you no longer have any influence. It’s better to have them be an active part of your research so you can discover how the ecological influence of, for example, pesticides can be reduced…Unfortunately, pesticides are still necessary if we want to feed the world. That’s the difficulty of our domain: there are no easy solutions. On the one hand, the solution seems to be to stop using the pesticides but, on the other hand, this endangers the food supply or food safety.” 

Scientists and civil society organizations have questioned claims that pesticides are necessary to meet global food needs.15Damian Carrington. “UN experts denounce ‘myth’ pesticides are necessary to feed the world,” The Guardian, March 7, 2017. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ZP5yl 

A 2019 report published on the WUR website, titled “Achieving responsibility at Wageningen University & Research,” stated that the university’s integrity code “does not mention how to deal with those tensions” around public-private partnerships.16Achieving responsibility at Wageningen University & Research,” Wageningen University and Research, 2019. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive .pdf on file at DeSmog.

In 2016, Follow the Money wrote that WUR was “increasingly becoming a subsidized research laboratory for large food multinationals.”17Wageningen wordt een verlengstuk van de voedingsindustrie,” Follow the Money, October 15, 2016. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/8CAvS

Stance on Climate Change

WUR writes on its website that climate change is “one of the biggest challenges of our time,” and that the organization “explores the impacts on society and ecosystems, and develop [sic] evidence-based, integrated solutions and technology.”18Climate change,” Wageningen University & Research. Archived August 19, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/FK68v 

WUR also states that it “differentiates” itself from “other parties which offer climate solutions” by focusing on “nature-based solutions” to climate change, which it says are ”working with – rather than against – long-term natural processes.”19Climate Change,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/FK68v 

The Wageningen Climate Solutions magazine, a digital publication that “features background stories about the research being done at [WUR],” highlights climate “solutions” including “tinkering with the plant’s engine” – meaning genetic modification or specialized plant breeding of food crops20Marion de Boo. “Tinkering with the plant’s engine,” Wageningen Climate Solutions, September 2019. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/sgUsk – “the climate friendly cow,”21Albert Sikkema. “The climate-friendly cow,” Wageningen Climate Solutions, September 2019. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/cLs5y and “climate-smart agriculture.”22Hanny Roskamp. “How climate-smart agriculture makes farmers resilient,” Wageningen Climate Solutions, September 2019. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/PXoDV

Links to Fossil Fuel Industry

In June 2022, WUR’s student newspaper, The Jester, published a story about the university’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.23Brigitte W., “Fossil Fuelłed WUR,” The Jester, June 10, 2022. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ZJndO The Jester reported that Shell had sponsored Dr. Peter Boogaard’s position as professor of toxicology, which was confirmed in the university’s 2022 published list of professors. Louise Fresco, who was president of WUR’s executive board from 2014 to July 2022, was a trustee of the Shell Foundation for three years before joining WUR’s board.24Press Release. “WUR bids Louise O. Fresco farewell after an eight-year tenure,Wagnerian University and Research, June 1, 2022. Archived December 19, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/wip/u3Hbg 

The article documented multiple collaborative research projects between WUR and fossil fuel industry members on topics including bioplastics, biofuels, and water management. A project that investigated the impacts of petroleum developments on marine ecosystems listed Equinor, Shell, Eni, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and BP as the project’s clients.25Brigitte W., “Fossil Fuelłed WUR,” The Jester, June 10, 2022. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ZJndO 

Impact Assessments of EU Farm to Fork Strategy

In 2021, COPA-COGECA and CropLife Europe commissioned WUR to conduct two impact assessments of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy. Other agricultural industry trade groups such as Euroseeds and Fertilizers Europe also contributed funding for the studies.26A loud lobby for a silent spring: The pesticide industry’s lobbying tactics against Farm to Fork.Corporate Europe Observatory, March 17, 2022. Archived July 26, 2022. Archive PDF: https://archive.ph/hpFb3 

One of the studies included modeling based on the EU’s targets to reduce the use of agrichemicals, including pesticides, and the percentage of land that would be left to nature. This assessment predicted an average 10-20 percent drop in food production. Its key recommendation was “removing legislative barriers to new breeding techniques,” referring to gene editing of crop species.27Johan Bremmer, Ana Gonzalez-Martinez, Roel Jongeneel, Hilfred Huiting, Rob Stokkers, Marc Ruijs, “Impact Assessment of EC 2030 Green Deal Targets for Sustainable Crop Production,” Wageningen University and Research, December 2021. Archived December 14, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

WUR published the findings of this impact assessment in October 2021, a week before MEPs voted on Farm to Fork, according to reporting from campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). WUR published the full study in January 2022.28A loud lobby for a silent spring: The pesticide industry’s lobbying tactics against Farm to Fork.Corporate Europe Observatory, March 17, 2022. Archived July 26, 2022. Archive PDF: https://archive.ph/hpFb3 

The methodology and findings of this WUR impact assessment have been criticized by other scientists, and one author of the report highlighted its limitations.29A loud lobby for a silent spring: The pesticide industry’s lobbying tactics against Farm to Fork.Corporate Europe Observatory, March 17, 2022. Archived July 26, 2022. Archive PDF: https://archive.ph/hpFb3 

The study did not include any modeling for simultaneous changes in the food system such as dietary change, future innovation,30Factsheet: Green Deal targets for 2030 and agricultural production studies,” European Commission, February 2022. Archived October 5, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. or changes in the global food system.31Magdalena Pistorius, “Farm to Fork studies do not give ‘whole picture’, agri stakeholders warn,” Euractiv, October 29, 2021. Archived December 14, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ibXPF The study also did not consider the potentially positive impacts if EU pesticide reduction targets were met,32Magdalena Pistorius, “Farm to Fork studies do not give ‘whole picture’, agri stakeholders warn,” Euractiv, October 29, 2021. Archived December 14, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ibXPF or the potential consequences of no action being taken to transform Europe’s food production.33A loud lobby for a silent spring: The pesticide industry’s lobbying tactics against Farm to Fork.Corporate Europe Observatory, March 17, 2022. Archived July 26, 2022. Archive PDF: https://archive.ph/hpFb3 

Lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory asked why expected environmental benefits of the Farm to Fork strategy had not been included. WUR stated that doing a full impact assessment was “unfortunately beyond the scope of the project” and that “partial assignments are part and parcel of WUR’s work, specific areas, such as economic impact are investigated this time, environmental impacts the next.” 

Corporate Europe Observatory also asked WUR whether its impact assessment was being used in an industry lobbying campaign against Farm to Fork, to which WUR responded: “We execute projects commissioned by a client in a scientific correct [sic] and transparent way.”34A loud lobby for a silent spring: The pesticide industry’s lobbying tactics against Farm to Fork.Corporate Europe Observatory, March 17, 2022. Archived July 26, 2022. Archive PDF: https://archive.ph/hpFb3 

The impact assessment’s preface states that representatives from CropLife Europe and CropLife International “guided” and “supervised” the study.35Johan Bremmer, Ana Gonzalez-Martinez, Roel Jongeneel, Hilfred Huiting, Rob Stokkers, Marc Ruijs. “Impact Assessment of EC 2030 Green Deal Targets for Sustainable Crop Production,” Wageningen University and Research, December 2021. Archived December 14, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

Corporate Europe Observatory also cataloged industry-sponsored events and articles that shared the WUR findings, and reported on a leaked communication strategy from Copa-Cogeca which planned to “amplify” the research.36A loud lobby for a silent spring: The pesticide industry’s lobbying tactics against Farm to Fork.,” Corporate Europe Observatory, March 17, 2022. Archived July 26, 2022. Archive PDF: https://archive.ph/hpFb3 

In response to questions from CEO, WUR said: “The way our customers use the results in lobbying for their interest is beyond the boundaries of our influence.” 

However, CEO reported that Wageningen researchers “presented the studies as key speakers in various industry-led lobby events.” When asked by CEO “whether their participation to lobby events was an obligatory part of the CropLife Europe job, the answer from WUR was no.” WUR added that it is “customary for our researchers to present their results for the organizations that have commissioned the research.”37A loud lobby for a silent spring: The pesticide industry’s lobbying tactics against Farm to Fork.Corporate Europe Observatory, March 17, 2022. Archived July 26, 2022. Archive PDF: https://archive.ph/hpFb3 

Jeroen Candel, an associate professor of food and agricultural policy at WUR, criticized the research, writing on Twitter that the framing and headline of the research were “highly unfortunate,” and that although the report’s researchers “acknowledge that the benefits of climate and biodiversity have not been included, that is precisely what the entire [Farm to Fork] strategy is intended for.” Candel added that because the research was framed around whether or not Farm to Fork would impact agricultural yields, it was “not surprising that such studies are used as ammunition against the F2F by status quo forces.”38Framing van het onderzoek, ook in de kop, is daarmee hoogst ongelukkig. Onderzoekers erkennen weliswaar dat voordelen klimaat en biodiversiteit niet zijn meegenomen, maar daar is die hele strategie nu juist voor bedoeld.,” tweet from user @JeroenCandel, October 12, 2021. Retrieved from twitter.com. Archived October 18, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/7svOI 

The second study conducted by Wageningen on Farm to Fork was funded by Copa-Cogeca, farm animal breeders lobby EFFAB, Animal Health Europe, poultry lobby group AVEC, feed manufacturers lobby FEFAC, and dairy lobby EDA – all members of European Livestock Voice

The study modeled the possible impacts of Farm to Fork on livestock farmers’ income, finding that the Green Deal objectives could reduce livestock production by 10 to 15 percent. However, the report also found that almost half of farmers could see an increase in income.39Roel Jongeneel, Huib Silvis, Ana Gonzalez Martinez, Jakob Jager, “Impact of the EU’s Green Deal on the livestock sector: Executive Summary,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

Like the first WUR impact assessment, the report did not examine ecological advantages that could result from the policy.40Albert Sekkema. “Farm to Fork strategy decreases agricultural production in Europe,” Resource, October 13, 2021. Archived October 25, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/B0sII

Albert Sekkema, a co-author of the livestock report, commented that, “CropLife was interested in the impact at the sector level, while Copa-Cogeca was particularly interested in the effects [of F2F] on farmers’ incomes.” He added: “If we conclude that this policy could benefit the financial position of half of the livestock farmers, I don’t know whether Copa-Cogeca is happy with such a conclusion. The results may be more positive than they expected.”41Albert Sekkema. “Farm to Fork strategy decreases agricultural production in Europe,” Resource, October 13, 2021. Archived October 25, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/B0sII 

Links to Agribusiness Industry

Wageningen University & Research has substantial links to the agribusiness industry, particularly with agrichemical companies Bayer and Syngenta, as well as consumer goods company Unilever, and livestock industry trade groups including the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability

WUR is one of three universities responsible for coordinating the Sustainability Consortium, a nonprofit organization that has “developed a globally harmonised measurement and reporting system that allows companies to monitor the sustainability of consumer products supply chains.”42The Sustainability Consortium: achieving sustainability together with supply chain partners,” Wageningen University & Research. Archived May 25, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/C3sLM Members of the Sustainability Consortium include agrichemical companies Bayer, Corteva, BASF, and Syngenta, chemical company ExxonMobil Chemical, major food suppliers including Walmart, Unilever, and Pepsico, and NGOs including the Nature Conservancy, World Resources Institute, and WWF.43Our Members,” The Sustainability Consortium. Archived November 7, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/esNm7 

Wageningen University & Research has working relationships with a number of major agrochemical companies, particularly Bayer, Syngenta, and BASF. WUR also carries out research for agribusiness trade groups, including Euroseeds

In 2020, the Dutch investigative journalism outlet Follow the Money reported that at least 16 projects carried out by WUR in “recent years” had involved Bayer or Syngenta as collaborators. This included WUR’s research into neonicotinoids and bee deaths, which was conducted collaboratively with Bayer – a major producer of neonicotinoids.44Vincent Harmsen. “Belangenverstrengeling zaait twijfels over giftig zaad,” Follow the Money, January 10, 2020. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/rUErM 

Follow the Money also reported that between 2008 and 2012, Bayer and Syngenta funded a WUR chair of “chemical stress ecology and ecotoxicology.”45Vincent Harmsen. “Belangenverstrengeling zaait twijfels over giftig zaad,” Follow the Money, January 10, 2020. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/rUErM 

In 2018, Dutch journalism outlet OneWorld went to court to attempt to access correspondence between Wageningen University & Research and Bayer, Syngenta, and Monsanto regarding WUR research on neonicotinoids and other pesticides.46Vincent Harmsen. “ONEWORLD NAAR RECHTER OM GEHEIME CONTACTEN WAGENINGEN UNIVERSITEIT EN BAYER,” OneWorld, June 25, 2018. Archived July 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/ASww4 WUR told OneWorldthat it did not need to comply with the Netherlands’ Government Information Act  – in Dutch, the Wet openbaarheid van bestuur – or supply the documents, because its research institutes are private companies rather than government entities.

Bayer and Syngenta have been listed among the “partners” of WUR research involving “on-site detection of plant pathogens,”47On-site detection of plant pathogens,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/v5iuy  the development of cultivation systems to “help outdoor cultivators become less dependent on chemical crop protections,”48‘PPS GROEN’: Public-Private Partnership project ‘Gewasbescherming Robuust Optimaal En Natuurlijk’,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/59e0Q and investigation of “switching on relevant genes” to “enhance” plants’ “recognition of harmful insect eggs.”49How do plants identify the harmful insect egg?,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/s5Nf6    

Both the private research arm Wageningen Research Foundation – in Dutch, Stichting Wageningen Research – and the public university arm are listed as “main collaboration partners” of seed association Euroseeds on the EU Funding & Tenders portal.50Euroseeds,” European Commission Funding and Tender Opportunities. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/AoqkX 

Several global food companies, such as Unilever, Upfield, and FrieslandCampina, also maintain research facilities on the WUR campus.51Het Onderzoekslab. “Hoe Wageningen University & Research in de tang van het bedrijfsleven zit,” VN, December 23, 2020. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Ejn0B 

Students have criticized the presence of these companies on campus.52Conditional prison sentence for WUR student activists,” The Jester, December 14, 2021. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Nlzlg 

WUR has defended its close collaboration with agribusiness companies on its website:53‘We need companies in order to make an impact in practice’,” Wageningen University and Research, June 22, 2021. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/HmUqd  

“You need the business community to translate WUR’s knowledge into practice. […] Companies look for answers to scientific questions that they can’t answer themselves. Then it’s indeed very handy if you’re situated close to each other. But this doesn’t mean that the companies located here are ‘financing WUR’ or determining WUR’s agenda.” 

Links with Syngenta

WUR has considerable links to Swiss agrichemical company Syngenta. Both Syngenta and the Syngenta Foundation name WUR as a research and development partner on their websites.54Research and development,” Syngenta. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/7T4uM 55Syngenta Foundation Partners,” Syngenta. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/mvkEu 

In 2019, Louise O. Fresco, the president of the WUR executive board from 2014 to 2022, became a member of the Syngenta board of directors in 2019.56Syngenta adds new Director to the Board,” Syngenta, April 15, 2019. Archived September 12, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/v0KjC 

Fresco was criticized by multiple faculty members within the university. WUR soil biology researcher Thom Kuijper said: “You are combining positions that can’t be reconciled. In the academic community there is a lot of discussion about the role of companies such as Syngenta in making agriculture sustainable. That community needs to be certain of the freedom to develop a diverse range of views.” 

Fresco defended her appointment, saying: “I am not part of Syngenta. I advise Syngenta.”57Fresco’s Syngenta board position controversial,” Resource – WUR from within, June 6, 2019. Archived December 17, 2017. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/KuxUr 

Links with Bayer

Bayer funded at least one Ph.D. program at WUR in the 2020-2021 academic year.58Funding University Research,” Wageningen University and Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/KQjF1  

In 2021, WUR organized a symposium titled “When Wizards meet Prophets” that aimed to “bring together” the two “polarized” camps in agriculture, featuring representatives from Greenpeace, BASF, and Bayer, researchers from WUR, WUR’s then-board president Louise O. Fresco, and the Louis Bolk Institute.59Wizards and Prophets meet each other,” Wageningen University and Research, May 20, 2019. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/1KOK9

In a post about the event, WUR wrote that “It’s time to put a stop to polarisation in the agriculture debate.”

The post continued:60Wizards and Prophets meet each other,” Wageningen University and Research, May 20, 2019. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/1KOK9 

“We feel that the solutions for a truly sustainable food system will not be found solely in one camp or the other. And all the arguing is getting in the way of any genuine action. We’re not going to win this ‘war’ by fighting over genetic modification, or about whether to eat organically, or to cut out meat.”

Bayer and WUR are partners on a number of agricultural projects, including research to make vertical farming more energy-efficient,61Sky High – Plant flats with LEDs,” Wageningen University & Research, November 7, 2019. Archived May 14, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/na4iK designing technology to “re-design” and increase the efficiency of photosynthesis,62Consortium,” Wageningen University & Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/pxlVo 63Photosynthesis, the green engine of life on Earth,” Wageningen University & Research. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/4YQLS and using sensors to track and improve the quality of perishable food in the supply chain.64Future sensors and digital twins to improve perishable food quality,” Wageningen University & Research, November 2, 2021. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/NE2YY

Bayer is one of 26 partners of a WUR program called AGROS – “Evolution to sustainable AGRicultural Operation Systems” – which is “developing agrotechnologies to support ecological and biological processes in the greenhouse horticulture, arable farming and dairy industries.” According to WUR, the main goal of the program is “to develop tools that can steer production towards more efficiency in the deployment of energy, water, plant protection products and labour.”65AGROS programme launched: businesses work with WUR to optimise agroecology with technology,” Wageningen University & Research, May 26, 2020. Archived May 25, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/oacnf 

Neonicotinoid Report Controversy 

According to 2020 reporting by Dutch investigative journalism outlet Follow the Money, in 2011 Henk Bleker, then the Dutch State Secretary for Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, asked Wageningen University & Research to draw up independent advice for the Dutch House of Representatives on neonicotinoids and their impact on bee mortality rates.66Vincent Harmsen. “Belangenverstrengeling zaait twijfels over giftig zaad,” Follow the Money, January 10, 2020. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/rUErM Follow the Money reported that a literature review of neonicotinoid studies led by a WUR researcher, “Plant Researchers Ph.D.” Tjeerd Blacquière, found that “the advent of neonics has not created an ‘unacceptable risk’ for bees,” instead naming a parasite called the Varroa mite as the primary cause of bee die-offs.

Follow the Money reported that Blacquiere’s conclusion was disputed “behind the scenes” by two Utrecht University scientists: Jereon Van der Sluijs and Marie José Duchateau. Van der Sluijs told Follow the Money that the review had missed 14 key studies and relied on “methodically incorrectly designed field trials by…Bayer Cropscience.” Despite writing a letter to Bleker, their criticisms were omitted from the advice given to the Dutch House of Representatives, “despite the explicit promise of State Secretary Henk Bleker that they would be involved in the preparation of the report,” according to Follow the Money.67Vincent Harmsen. “Belangenverstrengeling zaait twijfels over giftig zaad,” Follow the Money, January 10, 2020. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/rUErM 

Follow the Money also examined additional links between WUR and Bayer, finding that WUR’s Bee Institute had been “working together with the German pesticide manufacturer Bayer for many years,” including “help[ing] Bayer with the marketing authorization of neonicotinoids.” 

Follow the Money added that WUR’s Bee Institute was “conducting research within the chemical company’s Bee Care program,” and that the university “does not want to disclose the exact financial ties between Bayer and the bee institute.”

One WUR researcher, Professor of Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology Frank Berendse,68‘Plant roots exhibit starling behaviour’, Farewell lecture of prof. Frank Berendse,” Wageningen University & Research, April 1, 2016. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/FhZqk told Follow the Money that WUR should have “much more actively” investigated the ecological damage caused by neonicotinoids, and that he had “raised this internally [with WUR] six years ago.”69Vincent Harmsen. “Belangenverstrengeling zaait twijfels over giftig zaad,” Follow the Money, January 10, 2020. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/rUErM

Berendse also told Follow the Money that he had contacted ecotoxicologists from WUR’s environmental research institute Alterra, who told Berendse “they could not research the harmfulness of neonicotinoids to bees because there was no interest in that from the business community or the government.” Alterra has since been renamed the Wageningen Environmental Research, and is a part of WUR. 

Blacquière’s assessment was later cited on the Bayer website as evidence for the safety of neonicotinoids, and an interview with Blacquière was featured in Bayer’s annual magazine for its Bee Care program. According to Follow the Money, upon being asked about his role in the “PR for a pesticide giant,” Blacquière said that WUR is “not a university” and that the organization “work[s] as a company for assignments.”70Vincent Harmsen. “Belangenverstrengeling zaait twijfels over giftig zaad,” Follow the Money, January 10, 2020. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/rUErM

In 2012, Dutch magazine Zjik questioned the impartiality of neonicotinoid research conducted by Wageningen Professor of Chemical Stress Ecology Paul Van den Brink, whose professorship was partly funded by Syngenta and Bayer: 

“Van den Brink developed a method for estimating the risks of pesticides in surface water. ‘The industry has made good use of his method in stretching the standards for neonicotinoids,’ says [Utrecht University researcher] Van der Sluijs. In 2011, ecotoxicologists from the University of Leipzig published an article in which they argued that the method developed by the Wageningen professor fails and that harmful effects have already been observed at concentrations a thousand times lower.” 

Van den Brink defended his research, stating that his academic independence was not in question.71Tomas Vanheste. “Dode bij, stille lente;  Gif op de bloemen,” Vrij Nederlands, December 1, 2021. Archived June 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

According to Follow the Money, former WUR executive board president (2002-2014) Aalt Dijkhuizen was also a “supervisory director” at Incotec, a Enkhuizen, Netherlands-based company that “sells seed coated with neonicotinoid.”72Vincent Harmsen. “Belangenverstrengeling zaait twijfels over giftig zaad,” Follow the Money, January 10, 2020. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/rUErM Dijkhuizen was a member of the Incotec supervisory board from 2004-2015, according to his LinkedIn.73Aalt Dijkhuizen,” LinkedIn. Archived December 19, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

In 2012, Vrij published an article on agrichemical industry influence of WUR research into neonicotinoids. Vrij reported that Syngenta, Bayer, and Alterra – an environmental research institute affiliated with Wageningen since renamed Wageningen Environmental Research – had co-financed Paul van den Brink’s WUR  professorship.74Tomas Vanheste. “Dode bij, stille lente; Gif op de bloemen,” Vrij Nederlands, December 1, 2021. Archived June 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

Links with BASF

In 2013, the environmental campaign group Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN) criticized WUR for giving a professorship to Bernhard van Ravenzwaay, an employee of agrochemical company BASF.75THE SILENT TAKEOVER: Dutch Wageningen University moves on to sell their independence to industry,” Pesticide Action Network Europe, May 3, 2013. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/JmAus PAN Europe alleged that the professorship was given in exchange for BASF funding. PAN commented: “Since he joined BASF, Mr. Van Ravenzwaay has a track record of studies published with a favorable outcome for industry.” As of 2022, Ravenzwaay still held this position at WUR.

Links with Unilever

Unilever funded three Ph.D. programs at WUR in the 2020-2021 academic year.76Funding university research,” Wageningen University & Research. Archived December 16, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/KQjF1 

In December 2020, Dutch magazine VN published an article about WUR’s close relationship with the “business world,” and detailed in particular its relationship with Unilever. 

VN reported that WUR’s former president, Louise Fresco, had been a board member of Unilever from 2009-2017, and that the company funded four endowed professorships at WUR, more than any other company.77Het Onderzoekslab. “Hoe Wageningen University & Research in de tang van het bedrijfsleven zit,” VN, December 23, 2020. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Ejn0B 78Current positions,” Louise O. Fresco. Archived December 19, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/ZlJ5G

In its investigation of WUR research funded by private companies, VN found that “companies such as Unilever have a say in every step of the [research] process,” and that “the responsibility for safeguarding scientific integrity is placed with the individual researcher, whose scope to operate independently is becoming increasingly smaller.”79Het Onderzoekslab. “Hoe Wageningen University & Research in de tang van het bedrijfsleven zit,” VN, December 23, 2020. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Ejn0B 

Links with Livestock Industry

In 2021, the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability announced that it was working with WUR to compile a “toolkit” of “the most impactful processes to mitigate farm greenhouse gas emissions for beef and dairy,” which involved carrying out a “survey to identify the most effective interventions by leading companies to reduce farm footprints in their supply chains.”80ERBS Updates,” ERBS Newsletter, April 2021. Archived July 15, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/3qq48 

WUR’s animal welfare initiative, Sustainable Animal Stewardship, run collaboratively with theUtrecht University, lists Vion Food Group – one of the largest meat producers in Europe – as a member.81Sustainable Animal Stewardship,” University of Utrecht. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/YQgn8 

In 2019, WUR hosted the International Symposium on Dairy Cattle Nutrition in cooperation with Bayer Animal Health, animal feed additive company Diamond V, and animal health company Zinpro.82Towards ”perfect” heifer management (summary),” Wageningen University and Research, February 13, 2019. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/eMUCT

Funding

On a web page titled “Independence research: Finding Answers Together,” WUR wrote that in 2019, it had a turnover of 344 million euros. The page provided a breakdown of funding sources by Wagnerian entity.83Independence research: Finding Answers Together,” Wageningen University and Research.Archived November 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/cGVVB 

Wageningen Research Foundation’s 2019 funding from public authorities, public funds, and the European Union made up 55 percent of WUR’s budget while income from “contract research [for] public authorities” made up 15 percent, 18 percent came from commercial businesses, and 12 percent from “sales and rentals.”

Wageningen University’s 2019 funding from public authorities, public funds, and the EU made up 73 percent of its budget, while “contract research [for] public authorities” made up 7 percent, funding from commercial businesses made up 4 percent, and 6 percent came from “sales and rentals.” The remaining 7 percent was covered by tuition fees. 

Key People

Sjoukje Heimovaara – Heimovaara became the president of the WUR executive board in July 2022. She was previously the Managing Director of the Agrotechnology & Food Sciences Group (AFSG) within WUR.84Sjoukje Heimovaara new President Wageningen University & Research,” Wageningen University and Research, March 14, 2022. Archived March 14, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.vn/sunU3

Louise O. Fresco – Fresco was the president of the WUR executive board from 2014 to 2022. After stepping down from WUR, she became a board member of Syngenta. She was a board member at Unilever from 2009-2017.85Het Onderzoekslab. “Hoe Wageningen University & Research in de tang van het bedrijfsleven zit,” VN, December 23, 2020. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Ejn0B

Affiliations

Wageningen University & Research’s plant breeding research institute is a member of the European Association on Plant Breeding (EUCARPIA). EURCARPIA hosts meetings and aims to “promote scientific and technical co-operation in the field of plant breeding in order to foster its further development.”86Corporate members of EUCARPIA,” EUCARPIA. Archived December 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/lCzmF

BASF and Syngenta are also members of the group. 

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