[Classic, all outbreaks are down to vaccination experiments. Are they ever going to use these vaccines, or are they just out to terrorise and destroy farmers? Looks like it.]
New leak of foot and mouth disease discovered at Pirbright laboratoryLast updated at 00:33am on 23rd November 2007
Foot and mouth has leaked again at a Government-licensed laboratory.
Ministers admitted the virus "probably" escaped through a faulty valve at the Merial plant in Pirbright, Surrey, on Monday - two weeks after the facility was given the all-clear to start producing foot and mouth vaccine again.
The private vaccine manufacturer and the nearby Government-owned Institute for Animal Health were criticised earlier this year after foot and mouth escaped into nearby farms.
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Merial Animal Health facility: Location of 'probable leak' of foot and mouth
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn insisted yesterday that the leak had not left the site, but said Merial's vaccine licence has been suspended.
Farmers reeling from outbreaks of foot and mouth, bluetongue, bird flu and damage from the summer floods were concerned about the latest blunder.
Peter Ainsworth, Tory spokesman on the environment, food and rural affairs, said: "News of another leak of foot and mouth virus at the government-licensed Pirbright site will shock the farming community, the science community and the public.
"Hilary Benn now has some very urgent questions to answer. This Government's credibility is rapidly falling apart."
The August outbreak infected eight farms in Surrey. Hundreds of animals were slaughtered, costing the farming industry millions of pounds.
The virus escaped through crumbling drains and leaky manhole covers in Pirbright into a field, where it was picked up by lorries' tyres and carried to nearby farms.
A National Farmers Union spokesman said: "We have been reassured by Defra that the secondary decontamination systems have worked effectively and no live virus has escaped into the environment.
"Given what has happened this summer, and the massive financial loss still being felt by many farmers, we are naturally very sensitive about foot and mouth disease."
Merial makes the vaccine from samples of live virus nurtured in tanks containing animal-cells and nutrients. The mixture is spun in a centrifuge to separate the virus from the contaminated waste. The virus is killed and turned into vaccine and the waste is flushed away.
Under biosecurity rules imposed after the summer outbreak, waste from the centrifuge must be treated with heat and acid before it can be poured into Pirbright's internal drainage system.
Mr Benn said the alarm was raised when Merial noticed a "shortfall" in the amount of virus being produced on Monday.
Merial investigators found "possible technical problems" with a valve connecting the centrifuge to a waste pipe.
The virus posed little risk because the Pirbright drains have been repaired, and all waste was treated before leaving the site, he added.
An engineer examined the machine on Tuesday morning and investigations focused on a valve separating the live virus product line from a line providing an outlet for condensation from a steam cleaner.
Mr Benn said safety measures require two operators to certify the valve is shut when the machine is used and that the system is regularly inspected.
He said: "Despite these measures Merial judged that the valve had been leaking, allowing an unintended probable release of live FMD virus into the contained drainage system, which was then pumped to the final chemical treatment facility without being heat treated."
Derrick Pride, who lost all the cattle on his farm during the August outbreak, said: "They said that they had carried out adequate biosecurity checks. Obviously if the virus is still getting out, they haven't."
A Merial Animal Health spokesman said: "The site's biosecurity waste treatment facilities handled the situation exactly as they are designed to do.
"Like Defra, Merial are assured that live virus has not been released to the environment. We expect to be operational again soon."