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Research boost needed to protect US pig sector

The US government needs to renew its commitment to funding agricultural research if the pork sector is to have the tools it needs to fight new and emerging diseases.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said there needs to be a significant increase in the amount of money spent on science to counter a substantial decline in research budgets in recent years.

Without it, the US could be unprepared for outbreaks of diseases such as foot-and-mouth (FMD), which could cost the country’s farming sectors billions of dollars.

In a testimony to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology, NPPC chief veterinarian Liz Wagstrom said previous commitments to research have made the US the most technologically innovative food producer in the world.

But while science has had successes in dealing with diseases such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, livestock producers remain at risk to other illnesses which they are relying on scientists to find solutions for.

Wagstrom said one of the biggest concerns for pig producers is FMD, which — if an outbreak occurs and goes unchecked — could cost the country $200 billion over ten years.

The US currently doesn’t have enough vaccine to address an outbreak, and without funding for animal disease diagnostics and research and a manufacturer-managed FMD vaccine bank, an “alarming gap” in the government’s preparedness for an outbreak was opening up, she added.

Wagstrom also told the subcommittee that the apparent decline in federal funding of agricultural research needs to be reversed.

From 1970 to 2005, about half of the US Department of Agriculture’s budget went to research, buy by 2013 it was less than 30%.

One cause of the decline is the increased costs of operating federal research facilities, which suggests Congress needs to ensure operating funds go “over and above” research dollars, she added.

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