From: Reuters
Published March 11, 2008 01:40 PM

UK foot and mouth blamed on "shabby" lab: report

LONDON (Reuters) - Shabby facilities and substandard practices at a government research centre were in part to blame for last year's outbreak of foot and mouth disease in southeast England, an independent review said on Tuesday.

Foot and mouth (FMD) disease was found at a farm in Surrey on August 3 and traced to the Pirbright research facility.

Pirbright houses a laboratory run by the Institute of Animal Health (IAH) and one by Merial, a private company owned by U.S. pharmaceutical firm Merck and French firm Sanofi-Aventis SA

The review released to parliament pointed to "a creeping degradation of standards at Pirbright, combined with a lowering of expectations in spite of the potential dangers."

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"The second accidental leak in November demonstrated that the levels of communication at the Pirbright site were still inadequate," said Iain Anderson, the review's author who also penned a report into a 2001 outbreak of the disease.

"Although it will never be possible to eliminate all risks, the circumstances that led to this outbreak must never again be allowed to happen at Pirbright or at any of the country's high containment, research facilities. This is the big lesson to be learned from the experience of 2007," the review said.

Livestock on eight farms in the Surrey area were infected with foot and mouth in August and September last year. Live FMD virus was being used to develop a vaccine at the site and is believed to have leaked through a pipe damaged by a tree root.

Thousands of animals were culled and the European Union temporarily banned meat exports.

The government said it had already taken action to improve standards at Pirbright and other research centers.

The review noted poor containment conditions for the FMD vaccine that were below international standards, risky working practices and poor communication.

Anderson also said that with hindsight, the decision to declare the outbreak over had been wrong. A new case was found just days after the country was declared free of the disease. But he said the decision taken at the time was right on the basis of what was known then.

The review, however, praised the government's decisive reaction to the outbreak, comparing it to an inadequate response to the 2001 outbreak.

Britain suffered a crippling FMD outbreak in 2001 when more than six million animals had to be culled.

(Reporting by Katherine Baldwin; Editing by Peter Murphy)

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