Who funds the key players?

February 19, 1999

Arpad Pusztai's research into genetically modified potatoes involved the Rowett Research Institute, the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee and Durham University's biology department.

The Rowett ResearchInstitute At least 16 companies, including biotech giants Monsanto and Zeneca, have funded research at the Rowett Research Institute and its subsidiary company, Rowett Research Services, in the past two years.

The institute, like many other research laboratories and universities, has increasingly looked to such sources of funding as government funding has stood still and greater industrial collaboration has been encouraged.

Established in 1913 by wine merchant John Quiller Rowett, it is funded by the Scottish Office, with the annual block grant from the Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department of approximately Pounds 6 million.

This sum, says the Rowett, is "unchanged since 1994 and likely to remain so over the next few years". A statement issued by it points out: "(The annual grant-in-aid) has increased by only 2.2 per cent since 1992, whereas it would have had to increase by about 15 per cent to compensate for inflation and cost-of-living changes. In essence, therefore, the core grant is being steadily eroded."

The statement continues: "In order to cover this major short-fall, it has been necessary to make major savings in staff and running costs and also to increase income from other sources."

This includes industry. The Rowett gets 35 per cent of research income from sources other than the core grant. This includes charities, other government departments, overseas governments and industry.

This compares with 11 per cent in 1988-89 and 23 per cent in 1992-93. It is projected to increase to 41 per cent by 2000-01.

In all, the institute receives 90 per cent of its income from public sources, with its subsidiary undertaking about 10 per cent additional contract work.

Among the big-name biotech companies working with the Rowett recently have been Monsanto, which paid Pounds 140,000 over two years for research into enzyme supplementation of feedstuff for ruminant animals, Zeneca, which contributed Pounds 3,500 in 1997-98 for a student, and SmithKline Beecham.

Ian Bremner, acting deputy director at the Rowett Research Institute, said: "There are never any strings attached to the money we get from industry. We don't think it has any impact on the impartiality of research."

He added that the Rowett was undertaking another lectin research programme funded by the Scottish Office in the "same general area" as Dr Pusztai's research. This is funded by special project money, which is in addition to the core grant.

"The work on the transgenic potatoes would have stopped anyway in September 1998," he said. "It was not part of our core grant. We could have put our own money in or the Scottish Office could. But because our budget is shrinking we could not just start a new programme. We would have had to have found the money from elsewhere - we would have had to close another programme."

The Scottish Crop Research Institute The SCRI gets 65 per cent of its funding from the Scottish Office. The remaining 35 per cent comes from other government departments, from European funding and from industry.

Durham University Durham, too, gets considerable industry funding, with UK companies contributing about 16 per cent of the university's research income, compared with 59 per cent from government.

Among its supporters are Monsanto, Nickerson Biochem and Zeneca, none of which is funding research in the university on genetic modifications to food crops.

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