Milcobel Chair discussed in Flemish parliament

(25-02-2020) Milcobel chair discussed in Flemish Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Policy by Hilde Crevits (CD&V) and Joris Nachtergaele (N-VA)

The 12th of February the Flemish Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Policy, chaired by Bart Dochy, discussed the newly launched Milcobel endowed chair on dairy research at Ghent University.




The Chairman:

Mr. Nachtergaele has the floor.

Joris Nachtergaele (N-VA):

On Monday the 3rd of February, dairy cooperative Milcobel and Ghent University launched the 'Chair on Dairy Research'. According to the first news surrounding the announcement of this project, the aim is, among other things, to start high-quality dairy research and, for example, to study the functionality of milk proteins.

In its communication, Ghent University speaks of a continuation of a previously successful project on mozzarella, which will now be extended and will create a win-win situation for the academic world, where knowledge can be built up through research and the dairy sector can ensure innovation in its products thanks to the new knowledge.

The latter is necessary if we look at the consumption of milk. Traditional milk consumption has fallen sharply in recent years. In 2008 it still amounted to 45 litres per Belgian per year. In 2018 this consumption dropped further to 37 litres per Belgian per year, according to the figures of the Flemish Centre for Agricultural and Fisheries Marketing (VLAM).

In a first reaction, the Secretary-General of the Flemish Department of Agriculture and Fisheries welcomes the project of Ghent University and Milcobel and rightly states that "the focus on innovation and productivity growth fits in with the vision of the coalition agreement of the Flemish Government".

Minister, how do you feel about the 'Chair on Dairy Research' project? What concrete research will be launched? How do you estimate the importance of this research for the innovation of the entire dairy sector? Do you have any view on the current funding of this project? Do you intend to support this research financially? Or in another way? How is the independence of the researchers from Milcobel guaranteed? When can the first results of this research be expected? Will progress be reported on a regular basis?

The chairman:

Minister Crevits has the floor.

Minister Hilde Crevits:

Last Monday, the 'Milcobel Chair in Dairy Research' was launched. It is a joint initiative of the Flemish dairy cooperative Milcobel and the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering of Ghent University.

The aim of this new chair is to translate research results from the academic level into new or improved practical applications in the dairy industry. Such initiatives are very much to be welcomed. Partnerships between the academic and professional worlds are one of the drivers of innovation. And innovation is a crucial lever for our Flemish economy, of which our dairy industry is an important part.

Milk and derived dairy products contain the three essential nutrients that every human being needs: sugars, fats and proteins. This chair focuses on the latter: the proteins that are naturally present in milk.

Over the next four years, fundamental research will be conducted into the characteristics of milk proteins with the aim of gaining new or improved insights. These insights can be used to optimize the properties of dairy products.

Such research is important in order to respond to new trends and developments in society and the dairy market. The university can make use of the funding and infrastructure of Milcobel's various sites to test certain things on a larger scale. Conversely, Milcobel can do much more fundamental research by using specialised instruments and can draw on the large stock of knowledge available at the university.

This is an initiative from the business world, Milcobel in this case, and the academic world, Ghent University, in which we ourselves are not directly involved. I don't have a view on funding, and my services don't participate in it. As far as I am concerned, it is in any case positive that the business world itself is taking part in the creation of such projects.

Since this project is not subsidized by the Flemish government, both parties are responsible for the objectivity of the research. As a former student of Ghent University, I am confident that a university like Ghent University can guarantee both the independence and the objectivity of its researchers, and uses guidelines to guarantee this.

The project will run over four years. It is up to the initiators to report on progress and results. That also seems logical to me. Overall, it gives me a very positive feeling that this is happening.

Joris Nachtergaele (N-VA):

Minister, thank you for your answer. Indeed, the milk and dairy sector is an important part of our Flemish agricultural sector. It is a sector that faces many challenges. It is good to see that Milcobel is joining forces with the - probably our best - university, Ghent University, in order to be able to offer an answer to the challenges.

Research and innovation remain the important levers in this sector to offer the sector a sustainable future. It is a sector with many small dairy farmers.

Minister Hilde Crevits:

I won't speak out about the best university. Everybody has their preferences. I understand you have every confidence in the initiative.

The chairman:

The request for an explanation has been dealt with.