Re: Investment in research needed

Date: 29 March 2002

SIR - As the Prime Minister discusses Sir Don Curry's report on the future of farming, which recommended an increase in agricultural research, Nick Brown uses "evasion and ambiguity" to obscure the fact that the old ministry (Maff) did not have the highest-quality information on which to base its policies for dealing with foot and mouth disease (Report, Mar 27).

Little wonder that the Government did not have the scientific evidence it needed. Last year, Maff invested #85 million less in scientific research than it did in 1986. A few weeks ago, its replacement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, announced a "horizon-scanning" scheme to help identify what future research will be needed. But its research budget is rising by a mere four per cent, despite the fact that it is 63 per cent short of the equivalent budgets in 1986.

The last two government spending reviews, while increasing funding to other parts of the public sector, have cut agricultural research. The new review, to be announced in July, must reverse this trend if future ignorance is to be minimised.

Peter Cotgreave, The Save British Science Society, London WC1