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UK foot and mouth started at government lab not Merial

An investigation into an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Britain last month reveals biosecurity lapses at the UK government-funded Pirbright laboratory, but clears the privately owned facility

An investigation into an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Britain released on 7 September has revealed biosecurity lapses at the UK government-funded Pirbright laboratory.

Brian Spratt, chairman of a government investigation into the source of the outbreak, said: "There was some evidence of a complacency on safety at the Institute of Animal Health (IAH),"

Foot and mouth disease was confirmed on two farms in southern England, with the first case announced on 3 August 2007.

The outbreak was traced back to the Pirbright research centre, where research was ongoing into  developing foot and mouth vaccines. The centre contains the IAH and Merial labs. Merial is a private company owned by US-based Merck and French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis.

Spratt added that the Merial site was modern and well maintained and had no problem with biosecurity, while the IAH laboratory was an ageing facility and was due to be replaced. Maintaining safety in an old facility is challenging and expensive, he concluded.

Geoffrey Podger, CEO of the UK government's Health and Safety Executive, which has issued a separate report, said it was highly likely the virus entered a drainage system shared by IAH and Merial.

Instead, the investigation revealed that leaks in the pipes combined with heavy rains could have allowed the virus to reach the surface where vehicles carried it outside the facility.

Podger's report concluded that the breaches identified in biosecurity arrangements for handling liquid waste were likely to have caused a breach of containment and release of the FMD strain on to the Pirbright site.

Britain's National Farmers Union said it will seek compensation through the UK courts.

30th September 2008

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