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In 2001, the British government killed 7 million cows to halt a fast moving outbreak of hoof and mouth disease. It was covered by the world press and heaps of burning carcasses were featured for a while on the evening news. The govenment's response was highly criticized. It seems reasonable to assume that there were lessons learned from the event. The risk of another outbreak and the potential consequences must have been well understood when the current 2007 outbreak occured. Scientists working in the Merial Animal Health and the Institute for Animal Health labs at Pirbright must have been very aware of the inherent dangers in the virus and an accidental release.
In spite of this, the worse seems to have happened.
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From the article:
Experts pointed the finger at the lab's air-filtration system, saying poor maintenance could have led to the virus being expelled outside.Human error may have led to outbreak
Department of Environment officials will examine whether a Pirbright worker could have poured away unsterilised vaccine, which could then have been washed up from the sewers by rising floodwaters.
According to a 2002 report by the government-funded Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Pirbright complex is in urgent need of investment. "Some of the laboratories and other areas of the Pirbright estate are not close to the standard expected of a modern biomedical facility and are well below that expected of a facility of such importance," the report said.
Patrick Wintour and John Vidal
Monday August 6, 2007
Merial researches and manufactures animal vaccines, andshares the Pirbright site with the government's Institute for Animal Health (IAH). It has been established that the strain of the highly contagious virus found in the infected cattle was held by both organisations and was used in a vaccine batch manufactured by Merial on July 16.
Merial also insisted that it was innocent of any wrongdoing. "Our centre operates to the very highest international standards, and we insist on stringent adherence to processes and procedures for health, safety and environmental protection, quality control, quality assurance and regulatory compliance," it said.
Last night, the company's managing director, David Biland, said: "We have been operating from this site for 15 years and during that time have produced hundreds of millions of vaccine doses. In all that time we have never had a breach in our biosecurity."
The possibilities of the unwitting escape of a virus were also raised by a former government microbiologist, Harash Narang, who wrote twice to Tony Blair in 2001 expressing concern that Pirbright was using "live" viruses to make vaccines for foot and mouth. He said all future vaccination programmes there should only use the dead form of the virus. "It is easy for a virus to escape," he wrote. Dr Narang, who worked in the government's public health laboratory for 30 years, established the link between BSE disease and its human form, CJD, several years before government scientists admitted the connection.
Merial's official statement about the matter.