Wageningen University under fire over milk research claims

A Harvard professor has urged Wageningen University to withdraw a press release which claims drinking milk reduces the risk of heart and artery disease.

Walter Willett, who was involved in the research, says the press release ‘twists and misrepresents’ the facts by claiming three glasses of milk a day reduces the risk of developing heart and artery disease by 18%.
‘The research only shows a weak and unimportant relationship between drinking milk and the development of heart and artery disease,’ the professor wrote in an email to the Volkskrant. ‘It is totally misplaced to claim… there is a demonstrable relationship and not to mention that there is a lot more research which shows the opposite.’
The results of the research were published in an American scientific magazine at the beginning of this year. The paper makes it clear that there are conflicting findings.
The press release was first published in November 2010 but hit the headlines two weeks ago when animal rights group Stichting Wakker Dier said it was tendentious and made ‘advertisement-like claims’.
Spokesman Sjoerd van der Wouw said at the time a link between the reduced risk of heart disease and milk was easy to establish because ‘dairy consumers tend to have a relatively healthy lifestyle.’
The university has now changed the headline but the affair will still be ruled on by the advertising standards commission next month.
The research was partly financed by the Dutch dairy industry organization NZO.
A spokesman for the university said the NZO, which funds three professorships, had not interfered with the research.


The Volkskrant on Monday night there were top-level talks between Willett and Marianne Geleijnse, who led the research project. ‘There would appear to be a concrete scientific debate going on,’ a spokesman told the paper. ‘That is what science is all about.’
The paper points out that Willett gave a lecture at Erasmus University in Rotterdam last week in which he said drinking three or four glasses of milk a day can increase the risk of cancer.

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