UK at Risk from Animal Disease
A leading research scientist has warned that Defra funding cuts could leave the UK vulnerable to new animal diseases. Professor Martin Shirley, Head of the Institute of Animal Health, told BBC Radio Four’s Farming Today that unless there is another source of funding then the UK will only be able to resort to containment rather than control of diseases fatal to livestock.
The programme reported that the need to save money meant that Defra made across the board cuts in scientific laboratories of £8.5 million last Autumn. There are fears that further reductions could follow.
Professor Shirley said he was particularly worried that this could leave the UK vulnerable to exotic livestock diseases such as blue tongue. The disease is often fatal in cattle and sheep and is carried by insects. It was previously unknown in Northern Europe but which reached Holland last summer.
“We’re finding with areas like this that some of the government money is coming out we are having less money essentially to put into areas of work like Blue Tongue virus”, said Professor Shirley. “And we are putting more and more capability and expecting more from some of our younger cohort of staff like PhD students who are providing the skills for us at the expense of having that skill base embedded within full time staff who will continue in those same roles for year after year.
Ford Cortina Funding
“Essentially we are flying by the seat of our pants and I think another way of saying it would be that we are trying to deliver a Rolls Royce service for surveillance in the UK, but really we are being funded more and more at the level of a Ford Cortina.
“It means that the UK potentially loses out on the ability to develop better diagnostic capabilities which should be far more sensitive, with greater accuracy they would be amenable to more simple ways of using diagnostic tests more locally.
“I think the bigger concern would be that UK loses the ability to develop better control measures against some of these pathogens and in fact not just better vaccines against some diseases but vaccines in the first place. Blue Tongue would be an example where we don’t have vaccines against most of the serotypes and certainly the one which is currently now in Europe.
“If you are talking about pathogens that have high mortality rates then you are talking of exposing livestock to very serious diseases for which we have effectively no good control measures apart from some sort of containment so if another funding source does not come in to fund that gap then increasingly the UK is put at risk through its ability to cope with a number of disease agents.”
Professor Shirley added that comparatively small sums of money were required to underpin the health of welfare in the UK.
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