The American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) has responded to media claims that US animal scientists are being inappropriately influenced by direct payments from pharmaceutical companies, saying such assertions misrepresent the relationship between animal agriculture and industry.
An April 15 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “As Beef Cattle Become Behemoths, Who Are Animal Scientists Serving?” reported that animal scientists were adding to their personal bank accounts by working for pharmaceutical companies as consultants and speakers. It suggested that many animal scientists were now working in the interests of drug companies rather than in the interests of the farmers and ranchers that their universities were created to serve.
The ASAS issued a statement overnight saying that animal scientists serve the public by improving the health, well-being and productivity of the animals raised for human use, and that the April 15 article did not provide an accurate representation of how academia works with the animal agriculture industry.
The ASAS statement said: “The costs of conducting research on poultry and livestock have escalated in recent years.
“As federal funding for animal research has decreased, many animal scientists in academia have turned to the animal industry for support. Industry support gives scientists the resources to develop the safe, nutritious, and affordable animal products that feed the world.
“James Pettigrew, a professor of animal science at the University of Illinois and former ASAS board member, said it is important for animal scientists to feel comfortable reporting whether a commercial product is appropriate for use in poultry and livestock.
“‘If an animal scientist believes, on the basis of solid scientific evidence, that a particular technology can make important contributions to meeting the challenge of providing the meat, milk and eggs demanded by the world’s people while conserving the earth’s limited resources, it would be unethical for him or her not to convey that message to the industry at every opportunity,’ said Pettigrew. ‘Throughout my academic career I have performed research funded by companies. I don’t recall having ever been pressured to say something that I did not believe.’
“Jerry Weigel, a member of the ASAS Board of Directors and consultant for the animal feed industry, said many companies rely on universities and government labs for unbiased research. Companies need to know, honestly, if their products work.
“‘Industry needs the vast experience and analytical capabilities of universities and government labs,’ said Weigel.
“Steve Zinn, interim head and professor of animal science at the University of Connecticut and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Animal Science, said that scientific studies can show if a product is safe and effective for use, but “the market will tell” if the product meets consumer needs.
“Animal scientists and industry groups work to make the connection between funding and research transparent. For example, drug company Elanco Animal Health requires all researchers with funding from Elanco to disclose that information in scientific publications. Elanco, like many other companies, does not stop academic researchers from publishing results that contradict company claims.
“ASAS supports transparency in its scientific publications. Animal scientists with industry funding regularly disclose that information in peer-reviewed papers published in the Journal of Animal Science. The Editorial Board rejects papers where conclusions are not supported by scientific evidence.
“‘We have faith in the peer-review process and how it is used throughout scientific publishing to help determine if there is a bias within the science,’ said Meghan Wulster-Radcliffe, CEO of ASAS.
“‘ASAS partners with industry to provide services for our membership, as do most scientific organizations worldwide,” said Wulster-Radcliffe. “We value our industry, academic and government partners equally, and we make sure that providing sponsorship dollars does not allow corporate partners, academic institutions or government entities to influence the science.’”