IN ANIMAL health matters, the reputation of the Moredun Institute travels globally into most countries where livestock form a part of food production.
Yesterday Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, the chief executive of the institute, which is situated on the south side of Edinburgh, said there were now fewer organisations working on animal health throughout the world and this made the work done at Moredun all the more important and valuable in the context of food production.
The increasing cost of specialised equipment needed in cutting-edge research and the permissions to work with animals being far more stringently applied meant there were fewer institutes, or even pharmaceutical companies, prepared to carry out work on animal health and welfare.
“Within Scotland we have a role to play in providing food for our own population but we have a bigger role in providing technical solutions for others,” she said.
In the UK, following the demise of the Institute of Animal Health, the only other specialist animal research base that remains is at Pirbright and it concentrates almost exclusively on viral diseases.
“We have an opportunity to work on endemic or production diseases which are more important to treat in terms of health and welfare and also in terms of climate change as these diseases prevent animals from performing as well as they should,” said Fitzpatrick.
She was keen to point out that the Moredun should not be seen as a remote research base as it remained true to its origins of almost a century ago when it was set up by farmers keen to tackle diseases in their livestock. Uniquely as a research base, Moredun has more than 10,000 members, ranging from farmers to veterinary practices and other working in animal health and welfare fields.
This link, stressed Fitzpatrick, was vitally important as it kept research workers focused on problems facing livestock farmers and their professional advisors.
She also stressed the independence of the institute, recalling that less than a decade ago, Scotland had a number of such bodies, such as the Rowatt and the Macaulay as well as Moredun, but now a series of mergers has resulted in Moredun uniquely retaining its sovereignty. It emphasises this point by siting on an estate asset worth around about £100 million
Almost half of Moredun’s funding still comes from the Scottish Government but this is well down on a decade ago when the proportion was closer to two-thirds.
Even today, the institute is working its way through a reduction in government funding amounting to 6.5 per cent over the next four years, resulting in a loss of eight jobs at the institute in the past year.
An increasing percentage of its income nowadays comes from grants and from the commercialisation of vaccines and diagnostic tests identified at the institute; last year some £1.6 million came from Moredun Scientific, a wholly owned subsidiary created to maximise the commercial benefit of the science.
The development of further vaccines forms one of the main strands of the institute,s future work, with three vaccines to be evaluated for efficacy and commercialisation by 2015.
Diagnostic testing for five different diseases will also be evaluated in that same time frame with a similar number of disease control strategies being cascaded out also by 2015.
The other work priority continues to be in combating diseases which restrict production or reduce efficiency in all main livestock species of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry.