Professor Fiona Tomley, Director of the One Health Poultry Hub, has written to the UK Home Secretary, the Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth and other dignitaries in the face of impending cuts to international development research and innovation projects.
In her letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured above), Professor Tomley says: “You will be aware that demand for chicken meat and eggs is escalating and the challenge to meet this in a safe and sustainable way affects us all. Poultry production doubled globally in the past 20 years, fuelled by population growth and urbanisation.”
She continues: “The poultry sector is vulnerable to highly virulent viruses and as wild birds see no borders, controlling diseases outside the UK is essential to maintain domestic production. It is … a priority of the UK government to foresee risks posed by diseases with epidemic or pandemic potential and protect the UK food industry and the public.”
She adds that programmes such as the Hub’s build capability and trusted partnerships: “Working in South and Southeast Asia ensures that this region engages with us in creating a safer world, secures food security, and maintains the geopolitical influence of the UK in the Indo-Pacific.”
Ms Patel is expected to visit Poultry Hub partner the Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre on an official visit to India next month.
Earlier this month, Poultry Hub funder UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) confirmed a massive reduction in its Official Development Assistance allocation from UK Government, a result of the decision late last year to reduce UK Aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National Income. The cut to research and innovation sees a shortfall of £120 million in funding from commitments to projects such as ours that are funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) or the Newton Fund.
Professor Tomley’s letter to Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Minister Lord Ahmad states:
The proposed reduction in funding to GCRF could jeopardise our objectives of sustaining global food security while reducing risks of zoonotic disease spillover to people.
As the Minister for South Asia and Commonwealth, we are appealing to you to advocate on our behalf to ensure that essential research programmes such as ours are maintained.
Professor Tomley has also written to staff at FCDO offices in South and Southeast Asia, and sought support for the Hub’s work from other UK parliamentarians, including Professor Lord Trees, former President of the Royal Veterinary College and an advocate for the One Health approach.
In an article headlined ‘UK’s drastic cut to overseas aid risks future pandemics, say Sage experts‘ published in The Observer, she said: “It doesn’t matter whether you live in a small village in Norfolk or on the outskirts of Dhaka. If a virus starts moving around, it affects everybody … The relevance of this research seems stark to us. I would think it was probably quite stark to anyone who thinks about it.”
Poultry Hub members in the UK have also signed letters of protest organised against the cuts and undertaken individual advocacy work in efforts to ensure the Hub’s work can continue as planned.