The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is proposing to cut funding for research aimed at creating natural and safe feedstuff for cattle and sheep to help pay for the extra costs of dealing with BSE, writes Kam Patel.
The cuts are aimed at the Aberystwyth-based Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research. Other institutes allied to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council have also been warned of reductions of up to 25 per cent in their MAFF funding. These include the Roslin Institute, the Institute of Food Research, the Institute of Arable Crops Research and Silsoe Research Institute.
The fears of scientists at IGER are minuted in recent executive committee minutes. Christopher Pollock, director of the institute, is recorded as indicating that "MAFF were withdrawing funding from a range of areas in order to help meet the additional costs of BSE against a background of level or declining funding, and increased general concern about food safety". He says that it was important for IGER to emphasise in discussions with MAFF that its research was not based on improving production but sustaining quality and improving consumer product confidence. The memo expresses "serious concern" about MAFF's proposals and estimates a loss of up to Pounds 1 million.
Roger Wilkins, deputy director of IGER, said: "The long-term competitiveness of the United Kingdom's agriculture industry would suffer."
Ben Gill, deputy president of the National Farmers Union says that cuts will jeopardise the survival of the institutes. He adds: "In several institutes, if not all, past cuts have meant that the critical mass below which programmes cannot operate has been reached. Further cuts will inevitably mean that whole programmes will have to be closed, putting our ability to deliver the answers to the problems of the next century in question. The Government must think again."