The CSIRO will shed up to 50 jobs in food science research and close its Sydney food processing test plant in a bid to save $6 million over the next two years.
Australia’s peak science organisation claims it must find annual savings of $15 million over the next four years to absorb a $63 million cut to its budget by the Rudd Government.
The CSIRO recently announced plans to close Australia’s biggest livestock research laboratory at Rockhampton, north Queensland, and its Merbein grape and citrus research laboratory at Mildura, northern Victoria.
Among the latest research casualties is cheese science an area in which Australia is a world leader, supporting a cheese export industry worth more than $800 million.
Other key food research areas to be cut by CSIRO include refrigerated transport, food microbiology, process engineering, meat industry services and food chemicals safety testing.
Staff at CSIRO’s Food Science Australia were told of the cuts early this week by its chief executive, Anthos Yannakou.
The division’s laboratories at North Ryde, Sydney, and Cannon Hill, Brisbane, will be hardest hit, with some researchers offered relocation to CSIRO laboratories in Victoria.
The division’s 20m refrigerated container system test facility in Sydney will be moth-balled, and possibly leased out for other research.
Scientists working on refrigerated transport systems had already been dispersed to other areas of CSIRO, Dr Yannakou said.
Other food research assets under review by CSIRO include the southern hemisphere’s biggest high-pressure thermal sterilisation unit and several pilot-scale manufacturing systems to test new technologies in processing and packaging.
CSIRO Staff Association spokeswoman Pauline Gallagher said, “We will be doing everything possible to avoid jobs being lost, and will be asking CSIRO to pursue alternative forms of funding for research.”
A CSIRO internal email obtained by The Canberra Times says roughly half of the Food Science Australia funding shortfall appears to have resulted from the Rudd Government’s axing the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s $54 million Food Innovation grants program.
A spokeswoman for Federal Science Minister Kim Carr said it was inappropriate for him to comment on the CSIRO cuts to food research.
“Staffing and budget issues are the responsibility of CSIRO management,” she said.
Food Science Australia, which has an annual budget of $33 million, is Australia’s biggest and most diverse food research group, contributing to a national food processing industry worth $17 billion a year.
It receives about $4 million from the Victorian Government each year, but the Brumby Government recently cut $1 million in research funding to the division.
Dr Yannakou said the division would increase its research investment in nutrition, genomics, food materials science and “sensory science” or consumer preferences.
“We will also be looking to contribute to areas relating to climate and sustainability, like better use of water, where the research we do can make a critical difference.”