It was “creeping degradation of standards” at the Institute for Animal Health’s Pirbright laboratories that led to last year’s foot-and-mouth outbreak an independent inquiry has said.
The inquiry – chaired by Dr Iain Anderson who also led the inquiry into the 2001 outbreak – described the initial leak of the virus from a fractured drain in the Pirbright facilities as “an avoidable event … that should never have happened.”
The repot said: “The IAH is critical to the nation’s capacity to prepare for, and respond to, the evolving animal disease. However, the facilities of IAH fall well short of internationally recognised standards.”
The report went on to criticise the Pirbright centre’s management, describing its funding and governance as “muddled and ineffective” and said that while the science conducted there was world-class, its staff worked in third-world conditions. The Institute for Animal Health and its sponsoring body the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) welcomed the Anderson review and say they are now considering the report and its recommendations.
One of the main proposals of the review was the creation of an expanded institute for research into human and animal diseases. “The Institute for Animal Health (IAH) – a world leader in the field of exotic animal diseases – needs to be repositioned as a new National Institute of Infectious Diseases, supported by multiple funding sources from government and elsewhere,” stated the report.
The new institute would concentrate on research into viral diseases but also help in emergencies. Alongside this body, suggests Anderson, there should be an independent advisory committee on animal and emerging infectious diseases which included the chief vet and chief medical officers.
The proposal seems to have been championed by the IAH management. Chair of the IAH governing body, Professor Keith Gull said: “The IAH governing body and IAH staff welcome the opportunity to work with BBSRC and Defra to create a new centre whose world class research is matched by world class facilities. It is essential that the UK has a strong capability of scientific and technical competence and international standing to address, across a spectrum from fundamental research through to practical control strategies, the rising threats from a wide range of animal diseases.”
The review agreed with prior reports as to the actual events that surrounded the leak last summer. A live virus being used to develop a vaccine had probably leaked from faulty pipes and spread from the site, the report said. The leak led to the culling of hundreds of healthy animals and an export ban on British livestock. The last international restrictions were rescinded on 22 February.
Anderson added: “The events of last summer brought home that the old arrangements at Pirbright must now be discarded.”