Re: review of publicly-funded science
I am writing to you concerning a letter that FARM has sent to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett, asking her to initiate an urgent review into how and to what ends publicly–funded science is directed in agriculture.
Since its launch last year, FARM has become increasingly aware that many of the major crises that have blighted farming in recent years and the potential for similar problems in the future have their root causes in the failure of science to respond proportionately to the needs of agriculture and to map out a course for progress that meets the common objectives of farmers and consumers alike. In the livestock sectors of farming we have witnessed draconian measures taken by the government to control the spread of Foot and Mouth disease. Many would argue that there have been similarly disproportionate and controversial measures in response to the incidence of BSE in cattle and that of Salmonella in Chickens. Alternative views on cause and control have been side-lined. It is likely that the Government will also resort to methods for controlling the spread of TB that are more typical of the 18th century than the 21st.
We currently find ourselves in the midst of a debate on the commercial introduction of GM crops to this country with an alarming lack of independent scientific understanding of the implications for their effect on human health, animals and the environment. Instead of objective, rigorous testing, we are presented with assumptions, projections and mathematical models, many of which have been produced directly or indirectly by the very companies seeking to introduce these crops.
We have looked at the Government-appointed bodies responsible for allocating funding to research into food and farming and found that they appear to be principally comprised of scientists from the very same research establishments that receive much of the funding. The current system seems to discriminate against smaller, specialised research units that in many cases can supply the specialised expertise necessary to encourage sustainable farming systems.
FARM is aware that similar concerns exist in the field of medicine and human health, and we believe that it is time for a review of the objectives of research, how they are prioritised and of greatest importance, to ensure that they are aligned with the expectations of those footing the bill - the public.
Please find attached a copy of our letter to Mrs Beckett to which we await a response. In the meantime, we’d be interested to hearing your views on this issue and whether there are ways we might cooperate in pushing a more satisfactory process for commissioning research.
If you would like to discuss any of the issues in more detail, please contact Robin Maynard at FARM’s office on 0207 349 5830
Dairy farmer & Board Member, FARM