Exit Beef CRC; Govt pulls out

Beef CRC’s Dr Heather Burrow fears for the future of beef genetics research after its failure to win government funds.
Beef CRC’s Dr Heather Burrow fears for the future of beef genetics research after its failure to win government funds.

THE unintended consequences of the ban on live exports to Indonesia were still being uncovered this week.

One organisation feeling the effects was the nation's leading beef genetics research laboratory. Beef CRC's chief executive Dr Heather Burrow said a clash of dates between a June meeting in Mount Isa to sort out the fallout from the ban and a funding hearing date may have contributed to the CRC losing its funding bid.

Dr Burrow said the 14th-round bid by the CRC was waiting for final confirmation of grants from several of the beef industry's biggest companies on the same day those people had to attend the Mt Isa trade meeting.

She said the "appalling timing" of the meeting meant the funding bid fell over in front of government funding guidelines which demand private investment before the government will commit to contributing funds.

The Beef CRC had won commitment for $8.3 million from business but was waiting for commitment of a further $4.5 million from investors on the day, to help win $20 million from Federal Government coffers.

"We don't know for sure whether that would have got us over the line and I don't think there's really anybody to blame here," Ms Burrow said. "But I do think that, if the live export saga hadn't have happened, we would have been able to secure the government's commitment, at least to get to the second stage of applications."

Since its start by the Hawke Government, the CRC program has become much more competitive. The Howard Government vastly expanded the funds available before the guidelines were changed a few years ago.

Dr Burrows said since the opening of the program to arts-based research programs, rather than research on the "life and physical sciences", the number of applicants for limited money had doubled. She said only three to five of the 26 different applications for the latest round were likely to be approved for government funding.

Dr Burrow said in its latest bid the focus was on mapping different parts of the beef cattle genome. She said the work researchers were doing to identify genetic characteristics, which could improve productivity and efficiency in the trade, was being undertaken in conjunction with the leading groups across the developed world.

While the focus of the program was "always going to wind down and change in June next year", the knock-back may have threatened the future of young researchers working at the CRC.

Dr Burrows said that, for some of the Beef CRC's young researchers, more than 10 years of university education and specific genetics training had been invested in their careers.

But if the program could not get more private investment to continue past June next year, there was a big risk that those same researchers could be head-hunted by more lucrative industries or overseas genetic research programs run by places such as Yale University.

This, she said, could effectively remove some of the most promising scientists from the limited pool of genetic researchers.

Topics:  rural weekly

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