Alie de Boer: "The only thing that matters here is scientific evidence."november 29, 2017
Even though Alie de Boer is a nutritional scientist and researcher, the laboratory is not her natural habitat. As head of the Food Claims Centre Venlo, her primary focus is on the legal aspects of nutrition and claims. “Everyone has an opinion about food and thinks they know something about it. Here, the only thing that matters is scientific evidence.”
She had already signed a contract with a pharmaceutical company in Nijmegen when the dean of UM Venlo made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. “My own research program. I would be hiring and supervising PhD students and setting up a scientific expertise center that combines food and the law. I would also even be contributing to the development of this very young campus. Where else could a young researcher get such a great offer? Nowhere.”
Her knees shaking from nerves, the Frisian woman born and raised in Heerenveen called to cancel her contract before it even started. Of course, the pharmaceutical company was offering me an amazing opportunity, and who knows, I might still end up there one day. “Luckily they were very understanding about it. For now though, this is a dream come true for me. When I was still studying, I always said that I wanted to be able to put science into practice to help society, and this is what we do at the Food Claims Centre. Entrepreneurs can contact us if they want to test out an idea in terms of compliance with laws and regulations, find out what the status is with claims, information leaflets, liability and so on.” Alie de Boer (1989) studied nutrition and health in Wageningen before deciding to enroll in the brand-new master’s program in Health Food Innovation Management in Venlo.
“All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me here. This master’s degree offers a lot of freedom; professors and students discuss and debate, look at issues from different angles, and innovate. For me, it finally meant the chance to link nutrition to law, a work field that fascinates me to no end”.
She was the third generation of graduates in Venlo, and obtained her PhD in late 2015, after only two years, working on the cutting edge of nutrition and law. She is now undoubtedly one of the youngest scientists in the Netherlands with her own research program. “I think this is true, yes. Initially, there wasn’t a budget for this line of research, but luckily it worked out in the end. We are doing something really unique with the center. As far as I know, no one else has done combined scientific research into the developments in the nutrition sector as they relate to food legislation. And vice versa.”
Legislation involving food claims is a very complicated area. “When may a manufacturer use the word ‘light’ on its products or ‘good for cardiovascular health’? Can you describe a sports or energy drink as being ‘healthy’ or that it ‘fits in a healthy diet’? This is a minefield when you realize that only 300 of the more than 44,000 claims have been honored by the European Union over the last ten years. This isn’t because all those other claims might not have been justified, but also because these entrepreneurs didn’t have a sufficient legal background, or might have taken the wrong course of action, or quite simply, got bogged down by the paperwork and inaccurate or incomplete descriptions. Our goal here at the Food Claims Centre Venlo is to help these entrepreneurs.”