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Foot and Mouth Disease: Disease Control

Volume 474: debated on Monday 21 April 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he has taken to prevent a recurrence of the circumstances that led to the foot and mouth outbreak at Pirbright. (197994)

As soon as we became aware that Pirbright was a potential source of the foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak we put in place a number of additional safeguards at the site. We immediately asked the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Professor Spratt to carry out reviews of biosecurity, and subsequently accepted all of the recommendations in their reports. Since then, stringent new biosecurity conditions have been applied to work on the Pirbright site, providing several independent layers of safety and ensuring that the process is contained. For example, a comprehensive programme of preventive maintenance of the contained drainage system has been implemented and sections have been re-lined. These measures will ensure the highest level of biosecurity at Pirbright.

In addition, a Safety Alert was issued last September to all similar laboratories, which has been followed up by a joint programme of inspections by HSE and DEFRA inspectors to these labs. The inspections of containment level (CL) 4 laboratories revealed no breaches of the legislation and no formal enforcement action was taken. This process has provided both the regulatory bodies and the operators of the laboratories with the assurance that their facilities are well managed. HSE will continue this series of Safety Alert inspections to consider CL3 facilities based on risk.

The Government accepted all of the recommendations in Sir Bill Callaghan's independent review of the regulatory framework for the handling of animal pathogens, published in December 2007. These included that responsibility for the regulation of animal pathogens should transfer to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). DEFRA is working closely with the HSE and other departments, to implement all three phases of the work recommended by Sir Bill Callaghan. The formal legal transfer of the Specified Animal Pathogens Order enforcement and inspection responsibilities is well under way and is nearing completion.

We have worked closely with the HSE and are satisfied that all necessary measures are in place to provide assurance that the risk of accidental release is as close to zero as possible.