Research funding for U.S. animal agriculture has been shrinking and falling behind other countries, but a group of university administrators aim to do something about it. Speaking at the recent International Livestock Congress in Denver this week, Texas A&M Animal Science Department Chairman H. Russell Cross, PhD, framed the issue and described a new lobbying organization; the National Association for Advancement of Animal Science.
Among his previous positions, Dr. Cross served as administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service under Presidents Bush and Clinton. In his presentation, he noted a number of worrisome trends.
- Global agriculture will need to nearly double its level of food production over the next 40 years to meet the needs of growing populations, and about 70 percent of that increase will need to come through advancements in technology, since arable land and other resources are limited.
- Sound science has helped the beef industry respond and address problems such as BSE, E. coli O157:H7, drug residues and others. But with more challenges on the horizon, animal science departments might not have the resources to generate data to influence wise policy decisions.
- At most Land Grant universities, the state provides less than 20 percent of the funding for animal science research. In some states the level is less than 10 percent.
- In the private sector, animal-health companies invest 25 to 35 percent of their profits in research and development. Commodity companies invest less than 0.5 percent.
- Animal and plant agriculture contribute comparable value to the U.S. economy, but research funding is weighted toward crops. Animals and the plants they eat contribute about 60 percent of agricultural revenues, but animal research receives 29 percent of federal funding compared with 71 percent for crop research.
- The United States invests about $1.4 billion annually for agricultural research. In contrast, Brazil invests $3 billion and China invests $45 billion.
- Cross notes that his department at Texas A&M is pleased to own a gene-sequencing unit valued at about $1 million. An institution in China, however, has 500 such units in one building.
- Among $262 million in annual USDA competitive grants, only $22 million go to food-animal research.
- Thirty of 31 animal science departments have reduced their beef herds in recent years, and most have downsized their faculty. If the trend continues, we could see a 30 percent reduction in the number of universities housing animal science departments within the next 10 years.
- Cross says he worries about food security, food safety, over-regulation not supported by science and an empty pipeline of animal science students and cutting edge research.
- Until now, there has not been an organization dedicated to lobbying Congress for funding for food-animal research.
In response to these challenges, animal science department heads from 12 Land Grant universities formed the National Association for Advancement of Animal Science. Cross expects the number of university members to grow to 30 within the next month. Associate memberships are available to allied industry.
The group is registered as a 501(c)6 association, meaning they are authorized to lobby Congress. More information on the association is available from Texas A&M University.