Research and Education Needs for the Next Generation
University of California, Davis
There are many tools that are used in research and teaching at our universities. One of those tools, the National Research Council’s (NRC) nutrient requirement series, represents the primary publications of the Committee on Animal Nutrition (CAN). These publications have been used throughout most of this century for research and education purposes. The continual update of the reports in this series is critical to our next generation of scientists and educators.
The number of publications by CAN that have been used by past generations of researchers and educators peaked in the mid 70s (Figure 8-1), and since that time the interval between revisions of the publications has increased and the number of publications produced per year has decreased. These trends reflect the fact that the rapid pace of science produces more material that must be reviewed with each revision, which requires more time and resources. For example, the number of pages (Figure 8-2) and number of references (Figure 8-3) in each publication has increased steadily throughout the 70 years that CAN has existed. The improved technology of communication has resulted in revisions of the reports on food-producing animals that have evolved from static documents containing tables with numerical values to become more dynamic with the incorporation of computer models. This should not only make the reports more useful but also should extend the useful life of the report.
It should also be noted that the reports are produced by experts who volunteer their time because they care deeply about the subject, and in today’s society those experts have less time to devote to these important activities. Nevertheless, the difficulty in finding financial resources for updating many of the reports has been the factor causing the greatest delays. This is true for the nutrient requirement reports on food-producing animals, as well as on laboratory animals, companion animals, and zoological and wildlife animals. Perhaps users of these will more clearly recognize the importance of providing resources for additions of various species and timely updates of existing reports. The importance of these animals to our society dictates that appropriate attention be given this area in order to provide the latest scientific information about the nutrition of these animals to their supervisors and caretakers. For example, it has been about 15 years since the reports on nutrient requirements of cats and dogs have been revised. If one looks at the number of references in the past in these publications (Figure 8-3) there is no reason to believe that research has diminished in companion animals and the importance of companion animals in our society has steadily increased during the past 70 years. Even though the database for companion animals has historically lagged behind that of food animals, there have been hundreds of companion animal nutritional articles published during the past 15 years. It is important that this new information be summarized for the next generation.
RAPIDLY CHANGING RESEARCH AND EDUCATION NEEDS
There are many diverse areas of nutrition that are evolving and that require increased attention to research and education efforts. Several broad areas are briefly described below.
Defining Nutrient Requirements of Animals
To ensure an adequate science base for future generations, nutrient requirements need to be continually refined and extended beyond the current 29 species that CAN addresses. Emerging food and fiber animals, such as ostriches and llamas, also need to be considered. The nutrient needs of laboratory animals are becoming increasingly important in research because their nutrient needs are critical to the interpretation of research results. At some point, a series on nutrient requirements of wildlife and zoo animals will be required to help protect them and prevent them from becoming extinct. As the number of pets increases (current estimates indicate that there are about 56 million dogs and 70 million cats in the United States), so does the need to know their nutrient requirements. The nutritional information for these latter two species will need to emphasize optimal nutrition for health and longevity over that of rapid growth and production that has been so important for food animal production. This will necessarily require more research on nutrition-disease interaction and nutrition and age-related problems.
Protecting Health and Safety
Another emerging research need in nutrition is a better understanding of the pharmaceutical effects of particular nutrients and supplements. Over 7.5 million Americans used St. Johns Wort to treat depression and 7.3 million Americans used Echinacea to treat colds last year. However these substances may have undetermined nutritional and metabolic effects and interactions. There are a host of substances being consumed by humans and their pets that currently have no scientifically proven benefits. Research lags behind use, although a considerable amount of work is now being conducted in some of these areas. In the United States, CAN is a logical authoritative body to pay careful attention to and clarify the role of nutrients, supplements, and “lay” nutritional therapy in animal health.
Resolving animal welfare and animal rights issues are also important for future generations. While the quality of animal care has risen during the past 70 years, there is still much to do. It will fall upon the scientists to make major contributions to the health and well being of animals, nutrition being the foundation for the health and welfare of all animals.
Because the profession of nutrition has greatly expanded over the years, there is an increasing need to ensure the qualifications of those who provide advice on animal nutrition. Currently, there are no standards or certifying procedures for animal nutritionists. Only 23 states require certification for dietitians, while none require any certification of those practicing animal nutrition. Certification or standard-setting is a much needed element of the professional qualifications of our future animal nutritionists.
There are several important research and education needs for future generations of scientists, educators, policy makers, and the general public. Nutrient requirements need to be refined and extended to as many species as possible to ensure their health, protection, and longevity. Computer model programs, like the one so elegantly developed in Nutrient Requirements of Swine (1998), should continue to be developed for other species. Evaluation of the effects and use of nutrients and nutritional supplements should be based on science. And finally, nature, history and theology should form a moral basis for
animal welfare issues and adequate nutrition should continue to be one of its foundations.
National Research Council. 1986. Nutrient Requirements of Cats, Revised Edition. Committee on Animial Nutrition. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
National Research Council. 1985. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs, Revised Edition. Committee on Animial Nutrition. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
National Research Council. 1998. Nutrient Requirements of Swine, Tenth Revised Edition. Committee on Animal Nutrition. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.