Lack of animal research leads to poor policies

U.S. funding dwindles | University official says declining animal research can slow advances in humane animal treatment and disease control

DENVER, Colo. — Funding for animal and poultry research in the United States is falling behind, says the head of a new association seeking more government investment. 

“If we expect to increase food production, science will play a role,” said Russell Cross, head of animal science at Texas A&M University and president of a group of university department heads called the National Association for the Advancement of Animal Science. 

No recognized entity lobbies for federal funding of animal research in the U.S. and it is important to make government understand that livestock and poultry contributes to viable economies, he said at the International Livestock Congress held in Denver, Colorado, Jan. 15. 

The congress has a major student component to support young people studying or entering the livestock industry. 

Cross anticipates fewer scientists and a widening gap in production research as more universities cut back on faculty. 

As well, fewer students are seeking their master’s degrees or doctorates in animal science. 

He said 30 of the 31 university animal science departments in the U.S. have significantly reduced their animal herds to save money. 

Animal science departments could be reduced by a third in 10 years, and faculty vacancies are not being filled. Teaching and extension work have been cut back.

Only six poultry science departments are left. 

Cross said many states provide less than 10 percent of the money needed at universities.

Rules governing the national beef checkoff do not allow the money to be used for animal production research. 

Pharmaceutical companies return 20 to 30 percent of their profits to research, but it is often devoted to product development.

Animal research receives one-third of available federal funding and the rest is devoted to crop research, even though the two sectors contribute equally to the economy. 

“For the last 20 years or more, the plant segment of our industry has been focused and they know what their priorities are,” Cross said.

Questionable policy decisions have been made because of the lack of good research, he added.

Cross said it was a poor decision to name six E. coli bacteria strains as adulterants. 

“What is in the regulatory pipeline scares me to death.” 

However, Cross said research has helped form policies on BSE, the possibility of dioxin in beef, controls of nitrates and nicrosamines in bacon, animal well-being and food safety training. 

More work is needed on risk management, humane animal handling from farm to feedlot and water conservation, he added.

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