Scientists at the Institute of Animal Health fear that vital research on transmissible diseases, including BSE and scrapie, is under threat because of management plans to cut the workforce by nearly 70.
The job losses announced last week will be spread across the institute's laboratories and it is "highly unlikely" that scientists working on transmissible diseases will go unaffected, one source said. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council still has to ratify the decision.
The proposed reduction in the 500-member workforce stems from cuts in research funding from Government departments, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries which is planning, in the wake of last year's Public Expenditure Statement, to shave Pounds 5 million off its Pounds 121 million research budget.
The institute is spread across three sites: the Compton Laboratory in Berkshire, which is the headquarters; the Pilbright Laboratory in Surrey; and the Neuropathogenesis Unit in Edinburgh. The institute's broad aims are to understand pathogenesis, control disease, further animal welfare and improve the safety and quality of food.
Tony Bell, an IPMS union national officer, said that the announcement was "depressing". While the Government had promised extra funding for BSE research "it appears to have forgotten scrapie, the sheep equivalent of BSE and seems unconcerned about other diseases which may remain undiscovered in our food chain".
The IPMS also fears that the MAFF cutbacks will hit other BBSRC research institutes including the Institute of Arable Crops Research and the Scottish Agricultural Research Institutes.