Disasters spur call for vets shake-up

July 19, 2002

A £250 million overhaul of animal disease research and veterinary education in universities is needed if the government is to avoid repeating the farming crises that have cost £15 billion over the past decade.

The Royal Society's report, Infectious Diseases in Livestock , commissioned by the government after the foot-and-mouth epidemic, calls for a single national strategy to coordinate exotic and endemic animal disease research.

It says veterinary training is outdated and needs continuing professional development modules for practising vets to be readily available should a crisis occur.

The report says: "Had Britain and its partners invested substantially over the past 15 years in developing new vaccines or making the most modern diagnostics available, the cash savings would have been vast."

Report chairman Sir Brian Follett called for a national centre for animal disease research and surveillance to deliver the strategy. This would be led by the Institute of Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, with their work complemented by university-based research units along the lines of research council centres. Some of these should be paired with veterinary schools to ensure that basic research is translated into clinical solutions.

Peter Cotgreave, director of Save British Science, said: "The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its predecessor, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, have a truly appalling record in investing in research. If Defra does not do what Sir Brian and others have asked for, there are more disasters waiting to happen."

Sir Brian suggested four key areas for research:

* The transmission of foot-and-mouth disease

* Traditional and organic livestock management practices

* Modelling techniques to explain quantitative aspects of disease

* The development of a foot-and-mouth vaccine for routine use.

The report says that severe cuts in Defra's research budget over the past 20 years have left research into animal disease struggling.

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