News 666 views last update:Nov 26, 2007

UK: New FMD virus leak

At Pirbright scientific research laboratory run by Merial Animal Health, the source of this summer's FMD outbreak, another leak of the virus occurred last week, as stated in a report in The Times newspaper.

Rural Affairs Secretary, Hilary Benn, assured parliament that the virus has not made its way into the environment.

A faulty valve within the research institute's drainage system is the cause of the leak. However, it is highly unlikely that the FMD virus has spread to farm animals.

Faulty pipes
Maintenance works on faulty effluent pipes had been carried out. A heat facility to treat waste from virus production had also been installed. All effluent was channeled to a treatment plant to deactivate the virus and the area above the drains had become a controlled area.

On Monday, however, suspicions were raised due to the lower quantity of virus from production batches. Merial discovered a faulty valve on a pipe used to separate the live virus from waste product.

Operations at the plant were immediately halted and citric acid was used to disinfect any virus that may have been released by the pipes.

Concern among farmers

News of the leak has prompted concern among farmers as Merial's licence had just been renewed on November 6.

The pharmaceutical company's licence was suspended and a team of experts from DEFRA, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Health and Safety Executive paid a visit to the site on Wednesday.

President of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland (NFUS), Jim McLaren is quoted as saying that "shutting Pirbright down is the result of an inability to deal with such a dangerous virus. The government is ultimately responsible for the consequences of failures on the site which it licenses. The first outbreak had a terrible impact on farmers, but for this to happen within two weeks of Merial regaining its licence is not acceptable".

It is ironic that the leak occurred at the same time Mr Benn was discussing his plan at a farming conference in London to make farmers bear some of the costs of animal disease outbreaks.

Related websites:

• Defra - Foot and Mouth information

• Merial


• The Times

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