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UK Probes Laboratory as Source for Foot-and-Mouth

by 5m Editor
6 August 2007, at 10:16am

UK - The UK government extended its investigation into a vaccine laboratory southwest of London after cattle became infected with foot-and-mouth disease, the first outbreak since 2001, at a farm near the site.

The Institute for Animal Health laboratory in Surrey

The virus found at the farm near Guildford, Surrey, was used in vaccine production last month at a facility shared by the Institute for Animal Health and research company Merial Animal Health Ltd., a venture of Merck & Co., a Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based drugmaker, and Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis SA, according to Merial's Web site. The strain is similar to one from a 1967 foot-and-mouth outbreak, the U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.

The government culled 120 cattle and banned all livestock exports. The discovery prompted Debby Reynolds, Britain's chief veterinary officer, to expand a protection zone around the farm to include the facility site in Pirbright. The last foot-and- mouth outbreak, in 2001, cost the economy as much as 10 billion pounds ($20.4 billion) as meat demand plunged and tourists stayed away from rural areas.

The investigation should produce a result within 48 hours, Hilary Benn, UK minister for the environment, food and rural affairs. Investigations had so far shown ``no breach in our procedures,' said David Biland, Merial managing director, said at a news conference.

"The one thing we are absolutely determined to do is to make sure this outbreak is contained," Benn said. "Everyone wants to know where this came from but the first thing is to make sure it stays where we know it is."

Vaccine Production

The strain hasn't recently been found in animals and is similar to those used in international diagnostic laboratories and in vaccine production, the department said.

"It's still too early in this investigation for anyone to determine the caused of the outbreak," Biland said. "This site operates to the very highest international standards and we have complete confidence in the integrity of our operation."

Merial has suspended the production of the virus to aid the investigation, Biland said. The company had 2006 sales of $2.2 billion. The contaminated farm, about 30 miles southwest of London, has been under watch since Aug. 2, when symptoms of the disease were reported to authorities, according to a statement released yesterday.

Exports Suspended

The UK has suspended all livestock exports. The 2001 epidemic led to 2,030 cases of foot-and-mouse disease and the slaughter of as many as 10 million animals.

Institute of Animal Health Director Martin Shirley said in a televised news conference yesterday that there hadn't been any breaches of procedures at the Pirbright facility and that the organization is cooperating with authorities. There are two facilities at the Pirbright site, one operated by the institute and the other operated by Merial, Shirley said.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Benn and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport's James Purnell and Reynolds met yesterday to discuss the latest developments.

First Priority

The UK's first priority has been to contain the outbreak by acting ``quickly and decisively,'' Brown said in an interview. When asked whether Merial was the most likely cause of the outbreak, he said everything will be examined.

Brown said the virus strain was used on July 16 for manufacturing. Merial said in its statement that it is committed to the highest standards and regulatory compliance.

Source: Bloomberg

5m Editor