[back] Foot and mouth (FMD)

[Only ever made the farming press, and the 2005 outbreak most likely was caused by a vaccine experiment.]

Pirbright laboratories agree foot-and-mouth damages settlements with local farmers

News | 24 February, 2009

SEVEN Surrey farmers directly affected by the 2007 foot-and-mouth outbreak have won out-of-court settlements from the laboratories at the centre of the outbreak.

The Institute of Animal Health (IAH) and Merial Animal Health, both based at Pirbright, settled the claims from farmers whose livestock had been culled as a result of the outbreak without admitting liability.

But, in a High Court case that got underway on Monday (February 23), IAH, Merial and co-defendant Defra are seeking to get seven further claims from farmers across the country ‘struck out’.

They include sheep farmers from Cumbria and Powys and a pig breeding business from Yorkshire who also claim to have suffered heavy losses due to the restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

The £1.5 million NFU-backed damages claim, initially featuring 14 farmers was launched in October. It was brought against IAH and pharmaceutical company, Merial, as operators of the Pirbright site and Defra Secretary of State Hilary Benn as licensor and regulator of the facility.

The group of farmers claim the three defendants were negligent in allowing the disease to escape from the Pirbright laboratories.

Central to the case is the state of site’s drains, from where the virus initially leaked, to be then transported to a nearby farm in the wheels of contractors’ vehicles.

The farmers’ counsel Richard Lissack QC told Mr Justice Tugendhat that all three defendants were aware of the ‘inadequate’ state of the site’s 80-year-old drains for a number of years before the outbreak.

They all knew of ‘the dangerous state of affairs’ that existed at Pirbright regarding the use of the FMD virus yet nothing had been done to rectify it, he said.

The outbreak, which he said was ‘overwhelmingly likely’ to have been the result of biosecurity errors at Pirbright, was ‘utterly foreseeable’, he argued.

Mr Lissack argued that the seven farmers from further afield, even though they had not had their livestock culled, were still ‘first line victims’ who should be paid damages.

Lawyers for the defendants are trying strike out the claims by arguing that there is no provision in the law for them to be compensated. As they had only suffered ‘economic loss’, not ‘direct physical damage’, the claims were groundless, they said.

The case is expected to continue until Wednesday.