27 April 2000
MAFF slammed for slashing research
By Isabel Davies
A CROSS-PARTY group of MPs has severely reprimanded the Ministry of Agriculture for slashing its research budget by millions of pounds.
The Science and Technology Select Committee accused MAFF of being short-sighted for cutting back on research when confidence in farming is so low.
MPs on the committee singled out the ministry for criticism in a new report on government expenditure on research and development.
The budget has dropped from 140 million to 126m since 1997/8, despite a working group recommendation that spending should increase annually by 8m.
Ministers claimed to uphold the importance of research but the evidence suggested otherwise, said committee chairman Michael Clark (Con, Rayleigh).
“At this highly sensitive juncture, when common sense would suggest that the need for basic research has never been greater, MAFF has cut its R&D budget … by 10% over the lifetime of the current parliament.”
The committees report said ministers were missing the point when they claimed that the cuts had not affected BSE research.
“It is not so much a question of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted as of fitting security devices to prevent a further break-in,” the report said.
The report also warned that research could not be turned off and on again like a tap because it depended on scientists and facilities, which need secure funding.
“The kind of basic research which has suffered as a result of MAFFs squeeze on its R&D budget is unlikely to be carried out by anyone else.
“It will certainly not be done by the agriculture industry itself in its present straightened circumstances – still less by individual farmers.”