The importance of Scotland to world poultry production was stressed by UK government universities and science minister David Willetts yesterday at the opening of the National Avian Research Facility (NARF) at the University of Edinburgh’s Easter Bush campus.
He claimed that half of the world’s chickens could trace their genetic make up back to research carried out at the Roslin Institute and also back to the major commercial poultry companies around the Edinburgh hub.
In his speech opening the £14 million facility, Willets described the Roslin as a world leader in poultry research with its primary aim improving avian health.
“There are other research institutes around the world but if you look at the research that is produced here and if you look at its practical effect with the proven genetic breeds of chicken against those that are bred elsewhere around the world, you can see it is a very significant leader,” he said. “The name really is world class and that is the plain unvarnished truth.”
Commenting on the UK government’s investment programme for agricultural research and development, Willets said: “Agricultural science and technology is one of the world’s fastest growing markets and we can’t allow the UK to be left behind in the global race.
“In an industry worth £4 billion to the UK economy, employing around 35,000 people, the National Avian Research Facility will enhance the UK’s reputation as a world leader in this field.”
Questioned on the UK’s future investment plans for Scotland, the minister said it would be in Scotland’s interest to be part of the UK’s science and research network.
“Scotland has about 8 per cent of the UK’s GDP but has managed to get over 12 per cent of the science budget because we were looking at simple tests of quality across the UK,” he added. “It is clear that Scotland has got some excellent centres.
Part of the new NARF facility will contain research laboratories for the production of genetically modified chickens. Scientists have already used GM technology to produce chickens that are unable to spread bird flu.
Referring to the “negative attitude” of the Scottish Government to this new science, Willets said it was very dangerous for any government to be against a branch of science. “I very much hope that the Scottish government will put ideology aside and support GM research here.”
Also speaking at the opening of the new unit, Professor Pete Kaiser of the Roslin Institute, who will head up the NARF, pointed out the importance of chicken in the diet of the world population.
“Currently, it is second only to pig in world production of meat as a source of food and to secure this vital resource, these facilities will deliver world-leading research to improve the health and welfare of these birds,” he said.
Kaiser added that researchers at the NARF would study a range of diseases that currently place a significant economic burden on the food industry. These included Campylobacter and Salmonella. Future development at the NARF will also include specially designed sterile areas, which, together with the conventional avian accommodation and research laboratories, will enable researchers to work to improve human health by reducing food-borne diseases.