Leader: Animal health needs more research, not less

May 25, 2001

The foot and mouth epidemic may be past its peak but the lessons for research policymakers are fundamental. For decades, the United Kingdom had an Agricultural Research Council. The word "food" was added to its title in the 1980s to reflect the rise of consumerism and in the 1990s the name changed to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to reflect a further shift in emphasis. It is right that biotechnology, the new century's hallmark industry, should have a research council. But against its massive potential, less prestigious priorities, such as animal disease, are sure to have trouble competing for funds and priority. Farming, supported by a lacklustre agriculture ministry, could never compete with biotechnology, backed by the Department of Trade and Industry for funds.

The way ahead might lie in reorganisation, perhaps with the Natural Environment Research Council taking over agriculture research. There might even be a case for non-human biotechnology to have its own research council. But whatever happens, there must also be a ministry and an industry capable of demanding better research. Everything we know about global warming and the ease with which infectious diseases spread suggests that animal health is a subject where more research, not less, ought to figure in future spending plans.

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