31 March 2000

Opinion divided over the future of animal science

By Marianne Curtis

INDUSTRY opinion is divided on what direction animal science should take.

In future, one economist believes organisations need to ditch production oriented research and diversify. But a leading beef producer disagrees, saying research aimed at lowering production costs is vital if we are to compete on world markets.

"We currently import 23-24% of our beef and this could rise to 30% in three to four years time. Home-produced beef will have to compete and there is still a long way to go to drive down cost of producing high quality carcasses," JSR beef specialist Richard Fuller told the BSAS conference.

He also feels that livestock research needs to address disease issues. "It is unacceptable that 67% of cattle herds are infected with IBR. This is having a major economic impact and needs a national monitoring scheme which could be developed by scientists.

"Research must have a practical application, be relevant to the marketplace, and have robust results," he said.

But John McInerney, an economist at Exeter Univer-sity believes that animal science must diversify or decline. "Animal science has done little for producers incomes as a reduction in production costs manifests itself as a reduction in prices.

"In the UK and Europe, food availability is taken for granted and there is little scope for increasing output. Consumers want different food, not more or cheaper food."

Science needs to concentrate on issues of concern to consumers such as food source, safety and animal welfare. Non-food land use including horses and wildlife conservation are other growth areas, said Prof McInerney.

Whatever research money is spent on, the amount looks set to continue declining according to head of MAFFs livestock science unit, David Garwes. "MAFF spends £125m a year on research and development, of which £10m is spent on animal production science.

"There is a huge decline in money going into livestock science and we are seeking closer collaboration on research with industry. &#42

LIVESTOCKRESEARCH

&#8226 Money declining.

&#8226 Improve efficiency?

&#8226 Focus on consumer demands?