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Foot and mouth investigation singles out state and private labs

The pharmaceutical and biotech sectors continue to suffer the backwash of negative publicity from the shock outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK, with the finger of suspicion pointed at a private/ government run research laboratory

The pharmaceutical and biotech sectors continue to suffer the backwash of negative publicity from the shock outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK, with the finger of suspicion pointed at a private/ government run research laboratory

The UK's Prime Minister Gordon Brown is waiting for a second report regarding the outbreak of foot and mouth after an initial investigation said that human error at a laboratory was the most likely explanation.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it was a strong probability that the leaked strain came from the Pirbright site south-west of London, explaining that human movement probably spread the disease to two nearby farms.

The HSE report did not specifically blame the state-funded Institute for Animal Health (IAH) and the private animal pharmaceutical firm Merial, both of which share the Pirbright facility.

However, the report highlighted the out-of-circulation disease strain, first confirmed in cattle on 3 August, and was the one used in large scale production involving 10,000 litres of material used by Merial. It also identified small scale experiments involving less than 10 millilitres by the IAH. A number of biosecurity issues surrounding Pirbright's effluent treatment system were also mentioned.

HSE CEO Geoffrey Podger said that Merial will face more questions regarding the biosecurity status of its drainage facilities, adding that further work be done before any operations involving live pathogens are restarted.

Despite Podger's concerns, Merial has been asked to restart production of foot and mouth vaccines and manufacture 300,000 doses to stop any further spread of the disease.

The National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said the NFU would consider a legal challenge for compensation.

In a BBC interview, Kendall said: "If this turns out to be a commercial company, that has been and can be shown to have been careless in any way, my members are already very loudly saying 'we've lost money, our businesses are no longer able to function, we've got animals, extra feed costs, problems with capacity being squeezed on farms. There are many, many costs that have been incurred by farmers through no fault of their own."

8th August 2007

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