WASHINGTON—The federal government ought to be spending $500 million a year by 1990 on competitive grants for research in agricultural biotechnology, a National Research Council committee has told the Department of Agriculture.

In a report issued late last month, the Committee on a National Strategy for Biotechnology in Agriculture urged a major restructuring of U.S. agricultural research. It argued that the country needs much more emphasis on basic research and improved techniques and applications in biotechnology, along with increased attention to biotechnology's ecological implications.

The committee strongly recommended institutional changes to achieve these goals. Among them is substantially increased competition for research funds. "A peer and merit review process must be used to assess and guide the development of the agricultural biotechnology research system, including all steps from basic science to extension," the report stated.

Of the roughly $2 billion in public money that supports agricultural research each year, only...

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