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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 March 2008, 18:18 GMT
'Shabby' lab blamed for disease
Pirbright laboratory
Safety standards at Pirbright labs were criticised as "third-class".
An independent review of last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak has criticised the laboratory at the source of the disease as "shabby and dilapidated".

The report's author, Dr Iain Anderson, said the foot-and-mouth virus should never have escaped the government-run Pirbright complex in Surrey.

He identified poor regulation by several organisations, including the Department of the Environment (Defra).

The government says Defra will no longer regulate the laboratory.

The Pirbright complex was identified as the likely source of two foot-and-mouth outbreaks in 2007.

I don't think there was negligence on the part of anybody. The system didn't work right to prevent it happening.
Hilary Benn, Environment secretary

Thousands of animals were destroyed and millions of pounds lost by farmers as quarantine zones were set up and meat exports banned.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive blamed bio-security lapses at Pirbright which happened after a tree root damaged a laboratory pipe containing the foot-and-mouth virus.

Dr Anderson identified management problems at the site and called for the creation of a new body - the National Institute of Infectious Diseases - to run the laboratories in future.

'Creeping degradation'

In his report, Dr Anderson, who also led the inquiry into the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth, said that there had been a "creeping degradation of standards" at Pirbright.

He described regulation and risk management standards as poor.

He said there needed to be a clarity of ownership and responsibility for the site, which is shared by the Institute of Animal Health and private company Merial.

READ THE REPORT

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Although he described scientific research at Pirbright as "first class", he said the funding and management of the laboratory complex was "muddled and ineffective".

Dr Anderson said among those who shared responsibility for the outbreak were Defra - which regulated Pirbright - and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) and formerly the DTI, which are responsible for the site and funding.

He also blamed the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as the funding body, Pirbright's governing body and the management at the Institute of Animal Health (IAH).

However, no individuals have been singled out as responsible and Dr Anderson's review does not call for anyone to lose their job as a result of the leak.

The Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told the BBC that he "shared the view" that no single individual was to blame for the leak.

BLAMED IN THE REPORT
Defra
Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills
Department for Trade and Industry
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Institute of Animal Health
Pirbright Governing Body

He said: "I don't think there was negligence on the part of anybody. The system didn't work right to prevent it happening. That's why from the very beginning I've been determined that we put in measures to ensure that it doesn't happen again."

Mr Benn said the government had already changed the system of regulation at Pirbright following a review published last December.

Conflict of interest

Instead of Defra regulating the site - an arrangement that has been criticised as a conflict of interest - the job will now fall to the Health and Safety Executive.

The results of an additional review into the governance, funding and risk management of the Institute for Animal Health is expected in April.

For the Conservatives, shadow agriculture minister Jim Paice said Britain had a lucky escape, and he questioned whether the government had learned the lessons of the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001.

"Foot-and-mouth disease should never have been allowed to escape from a government-licensed, inspected and regulated laboratory, particularly when there had been warnings over the shabby facilities for more than four years", Mr Paice said.

"Professor Anderson makes it clear that responsibility for the whole disaster lies ultimately with the government, which ignored those warnings", he continued.

Farming leaders welcomed the report's recommendations. But they said that they were disappointed that the report had not criticised the amount of government compensation on offer to help farmers recover their losses.

National Farmers Union deputy president Meurig Raymond said: "To apologise, as Hilary Benn has done repeatedly, is one thing.

"To help the industry recover, as he has signally failed to do, is very much another."



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