Animal welfare expertise at Ulster University takes all-Ireland approach
With expertise in nutrition, therapeutics, and engineering, Ulster University aims to offer solutions to farming and industry stakeholders North and South of the Border
Ulster University wants to help the animal welfare sector thrive, especially with the significant political implications on the horizon. Photograph: iStock
Animal welfare is not simply a catch-all phrase: on a macro scale it is an industry worth billions globally – approximately £2 billion annually in Ireland and the UK alone – while on a minor scale, for a famer or family of pet owners, the implications are inestimable.
With political uncertainty looming, Ulster University is offering its expertise in nutrition, therapeutics, and engineering, to stakeholders North and South of the Border seeking solutions to their animal welfare issues.
“Given the history of the island, and the wealth of agricultural practice regarding livestock, we know we could do more to help the sector thrive, especially with the significant political implications on the horizon,” explains Feargal Cosgrove, licensing manager in innovation and impact at Ulster University.
Having engaged in consultancy work with companies in the livestock and companion animal fields, Ulster University has also advised graduates in these areas on start-ups and licensing deals for their technologies. But Ulster University wants to better support the needs of veterinary and agriculture professionals; from animal welfare – in terms of therapeutics and nutrition – to policy guidance and business management, as there are many more stakeholders who could benefit from their wide-ranging expertise and research in the field.
Cosgrove says stakeholders may not be aware that there is a solution to their particular problem. “We at Ulster University want to support animal welfare in all forms, by opening our bank of pre-existing research to, and developing bespoke solutions for, key stakeholders in both the farm and companion animal sectors.”
Unmet needs in animal welfare, from the major to the minor, depend on the stakeholder you talk to
Ulster University enjoys close links with many international institutions. “We have a whole suite of possible solutions in-house, and if we don’t have something to hand, we have collaborators across the world and can link up with these in order to meet the needs of our clients,” notes Cosgrove.
The time is right to publicise these offerings; Brexit – if and when it happens – will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the farming industry. “It could be a tough time, particularly for farmers in the north of the island, due to that uncertainty. We want to reassure them that if there are any scientific or engineering problems, we have a wealth of experience and may be able to solve it for them,” explains Cosgrove.
He adds that Ulster University are taking the necessary action to improve their relationships with both the Ulster Farmers’ Union and the Irish Farmers' Association, as well as the relevant Government departments concerning agriculture both North and South.
So what kinds of issues can Ulster University help either industry or the smaller farmer address? Unmet needs in animal welfare, from the major to the minor, depend on the stakeholder you talk to, Cosgrove admits.“Speaking to some of the smaller farmers, you can tell there are unmet needs, especially with regard to disease spread and nutritional requirements. Meanwhile, the types of industries we have engaged with are focused on their product delivery. There are different drivers behind needs of different stakeholders, and all are equally valid.”
Indeed, the university’s broad back catalogue of research covers a multitude of issues. For example, they have engaged in extensive work on the types of endocrine diseases that affect companion animals in western Europe and the American market.
“We know that diabetes is a real problem in the US with companion animals. For pet owners, they know that if a dog is sick, the whole household comes to a standstill. We have a wealth of therapeutics in diabetes, which promote increased insulin secretion and repair a damaged pancreas. All our therapeutics are naturally derived so they are of low-risk to the animal in terms of adverse reactions,” explains Cosgrove.
In the university’s Coleraine campus the Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health is in the process of developing biosurfactants that decreases gut bleeds and improve shrinkage of oesophageal and GI tumours.
People may feel this research is being carried out solely for human consumption but it’s not, it can be of benefit across the board for humans and animals
“We envisage that this can be a good additive for feed in cattle when there is an outbreak of disease. Also, this biosurfactant can increase the efficacy of any antibiotic or drug that is administered,” says Cosgrove. Devices are another area of expertise and the university is currently working on a livestock reproductive monitoring technology.
“People may feel this research is being carried out solely for human consumption but it’s not, it can be of benefit across the board for humans and animals. The research going on at the university does have that cross-applicability, and again, if it is something we don’t currently have then we are capable of creating a bespoke solution for any need.” He adds that the long-term goal is for the university to open a school of excellence for animal welfare.
All this is at the farmers’ backdoor steps. Ultimately, Cosgrove says the university is keen to spread the word that they have significant expertise and capacity in animal welfare that all people with an interest in the area could and should avail of. “Our doors are open.”
For more information, visit ulster.ac.uk/research/work-with-us