Eroding funding for animal agriculture demands attention

by Joel Crews
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TUCSON, Ariz. – In a Feb. 16 presentation titled: “Getting ahead of the curve with science,” Dr. Russell Cross told attendees of the National Meat Association’s Annual Convention that the amount of government funding earmarked for research related to animal science and to ensure the success of the meat industry is rapidly dwindling.

Cross, who is the department head of animal science in Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said when compared to the amount of USDA funding dedicated to non-animal research, animal science is falling disproportionately behind.

“As big as this industry is, it should be getting a larger share of research funding,” and if it doesn’t, the number of animal science departments at land grant schools could be cut by up to one-third in the next 10 years. The plant side, he said, “is more focused, more organized and structured.” To address this, Cross is leading the formation of a coalition to represent the country’s animal science departments. He pointed out examples of the vital role science and data collection has played in influencing public policy for the meat and poultry industry in the past and said many issues are looming that require more research.

Some of the future issues he mentioned include: Salmonella in lymph nodes; antimicrobial resistance; sampling and testing; E. coli testing; and pre-harvest interventions. While the need for research increases, Cross said, federal and state funding, and even checkoff dollars dedicated to food safety declines more each year. He added that industry has become too reliant on beef and pork checkoff funded research. “Science does make a difference,” he said, “and industry needs more input in advocating the direction of scientific research.”

As Cross rallies support for more research funding to target animal science programs, he pointed out the initiative will require the support of all segments of the industry, including the trade associations, and it must span all species. “It’s time to get in the game,” he said, “otherwise, the data won’t be there to support you."

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