Chancellor announces major investment for UK food security
Published:  30 November, 2011

Funding for UK food security has received a significant boost after the Chancellor of the Exchequer unveiled £80m for the development of further research facilities at the BBSRC’s Institute for Animal Health (IAH).

The money will be used to boost the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) capital investment budget to around £100m, enabling the construction of new high-containment laboratories, experimenting facilities and supporting infrastructure at the IAH campus at Pirbright. This will allow researchers to study avian and animal diseases and develop new vaccines and tests, helping the IAH to transfer some of its research from its Compton site in Berkshire, which is due to close, and develop an animal health science and innovation campus at Pirbright.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts welcomed the news, saying that the UK is a world leader in research into animal diseases. He said: “This significant investment in Pirbright will drive growth, create highly-skilled jobs and improve our understanding of diseases that can have devastating effects on our rural economy, including avian flu. Not only is this vital for our agricultural industry, but it also helps ensure future global food security.”

BBSRC chief executive Professor Douglas Kell said that investment in a national research infrastructure has been shown to be the best way to generate long-term economic growth. He said: “The Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright is not only involved in furthering scientific knowledge and promoting innovation, but in protecting animal health, rural livelihoods and food security. The new facilities for studying avian and other diseases will help to protect huge sectors in the UK economy and protect hundreds of thousands of jobs that would be at risk during an animal disease outbreak.”

IAH director Professor John Fazakerley said that the new facilities were urgently required to underpin UK and EU capability in research on virus infections of poultry and livestock, and would enable the IAH to expand its research into important diseases of poultry including avian flu viruses.  

The news has been welcomed by the farming and food sector.

Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said: “The British Poultry Council welcomes this funding for developing the work of IAH at Pirbright. In particular, the science behind new vaccines against certain poultry infections will underpin sustainable growth of the poultry production to the benefit of society, the environment, and of the birds themselves. We are pleased to see this commitment to science by the Government.”

The UK poultry industry is worth around £8bn to the UK economy and employs around 35,000 people. Poultry diseases pose a major threat to the industry, and should a serious outbreak of avian influenza arise, it is estimated to cost the UK around £68bn or 5% of GDP.  

The new facilities are expected to be operational by 2016, although a high-containment laboratory already under construction in a previous phase will be ready in early 2014.

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