Addressing threats to animal-ag research

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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.

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Edward M.    
Ohio  |  January, 18, 2013 at 11:12 AM

Land grant universities no longer do much productive research into commercial agriculture. They have mostly gone over to reinventing a wooden wheel farming model to appease anti-agriculture activists who would have us all busily engaged in smallholder stoop labor farming. No taxpayer money should be funding any of those ridiculous Renaissance Faire peasant farming reenactments. Let private donors fund that the same way they fund anti-agriculture cults like HSUS, PETA, etc. We seem to be doing fine with private industry doing research and development. The old style university and extension systems have fossilized. Worse they have been infiltrated by anti-agriculture operatives who are now on the public dole working their veiled agendas to destroy us. We have a massive Federal debt to work down and diverting tax revenue from piddling organic hobby farming "research" would be the sensible and responsible thing to do.

MT  |  January, 18, 2013 at 11:53 AM

Do China and Brazil invest in ag research to try to prove cow farts will end the world? That's what our American universities seem to work on. Who needs it.

Rapid City  |  January, 18, 2013 at 12:44 PM

Wake up Jasper. In fact both of these, and many additional countries are increasing funding for animal research--and research to monitor fluxes of methane is among their top priorities! Although methane from eructations (not farts) is one important global source of greenhouse gases, emissions of methane from ruminants is also important because: A) Emissions of methane represent a a major energy loss roughly equivalent of a half-pound of weight gain each day. Formulating feed that reduces methane is also likely to increase RFI--animal efficiency and lower feed costs. B) Methane fluxes are directly related to feed quality and animal intake. Changes may indicate disease or changes in forage availability, or changes in feed quality. C) Animal losses at the feed yard and in dairies for fresh cows are a major economic drain. Methane fluxes can quickly indicate imbalances such as subclinical acidosis. D.) genetic factors impact methane fluxes. Selection of low-emitting animals is likely to increase the RFI of progeny. So although the world is heating up creating more chaotic and unpredictable weather --among other critical impacts, there are also compelling economic reasons for research to monitor metabolic gas fluxes from ruminants.

Nebraska  |  January, 18, 2013 at 02:54 PM

In addition to all the mentioned problems with funding in the land grant university livestock research, is an ongoing difficulty with any research that does not promote Black Angus beef sales. We have become dominated by this commodity beef. How many know that private research linked with Iowa State has found a gene in Red cattle that when the allele is homozygous, it provides immunity from salmonella, and strong resistence to E Coli. That might be important? Not good if you have black hided cattle.

United Kingdom  |  January, 31, 2013 at 03:10 PM

While adequate funding is essential, I find it interesting that some high impact research has been achieved by individuals with minimal support, Alan Savory persuaded farmers and ranchers in Zimbabwe and South Africa to make their land and herds available for his research into what has now developed into Holistic management. Johann Zietsman fine tuned the high density grazing aspect of Holistic management, and developing his Veldmaster composite from his own herd, after his property was siezed, he continued the Veldmaster program with cattlemen in South Africa and Zambia,as well as another African Zebu program in Zambia all impressive functional and profitable composites. He is in increasing demand as a consultant on high density grazing. Prehaps we need a different approach to how we research to get more value for money.

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