The Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is planning cuts of Pounds 5 million in its Pounds 121 million research budget over 1996/97, a move that is likely to lead to job cuts and threaten work at research council institutes.
The immediate cut in funding will be followed by savings of Pounds 500,00 in each of the following two years. Research institutes allied to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council - including the Institute of Animal Health in Edinburgh which carries out work on spongiform brain diseases including BSE - are virtually certain to be affected by MAFF's plans.
It is understood that MAFF will honour contractual agreements for research already under way but will not guarantee further funding when contracts come to an end.
Virtually all BBSRC institutes will be affected but it is thought that the worst hit will be the Institute of Animal Health, the Institute of Arable Crops Research and the Scottish Agricultural Research Institutes. Cuts of between Pounds 100,000 and Pounds 400,000 at each are feared although the ministry has announced that research into mad cow disease will increase by Pounds 1 million, suggesting that some measure of protection will be given to work on BSE.
It is estimated that 20 to 50 jobs will have to go in the institutes with voluntary redundancies being sought first.
Nigel Titchen, president of the IPMS union science group executive, said that although it is unclear how the fresh cuts arising out of the autumn PES round will impact upon individual research programmes in the affected institutes, "it is likely that key research teams will be broken up leading to an irreplaceable loss of expertise and further reducing the ability of those organisations to compete effectively in an increasingly complex European research market".
MAFF is planning to safeguard research into salmonella, TB, the cattle disease brucellosis and food safety. Partial protection will be given to food technology research and some programmes in horticulture, aquaculture and sustainable livestock farming.
Tony Bell, an IPMS national officer, said: "Staff at the three Institute of Animal Health centres are angry and depressed by news of the latest cuts which has come as a shock."
He said that job losses, caused by the freezing of the budget in areas of scientific research areas means that there will be an inevitable and adverse effect on vital work into animal health and emerging diseases.