A combination of unique and unhappy circumstances led to the foot and mouth outbreak, DEFRA secretary, Hilary Benn announced at a press conference at the launch of two independent reports today (7 September).

“There can be no absolute certainty as to how the virus escaped from the site. However, there can be no excuse that foot and mouth escaped from the laboratories. It should not have happened and must not happen again,” Mr Benn said.  

Mr Benn called for a number of recommendations, including:

* Put in place new requirements for Institute for Animal Health and Merial to ensure that all waste is sterilised within a high containment area;

* Establish improvement plans setting out the action which both IAH and Merial must take, which will be subject to inspections;

* Revise guidance and licence conditions on access to restricted sites;

* Require other relevant laboratories, through HSE and DEFRA safety alerts, to satisfy themselves that their own facilities and procedures address all the issues identified in these reports;

* Establish a review of the regulatory framework for animal pathogens led by Sir Bill Callaghan, which will also address the position of DEFRA as regulator, licensor and inspector of SAPO 4 regulation and as a major customer of animal pathogens research and diagnostics;

* A review of funding, governance and risk management at the Pirbright site.
 In addition, the IAH will commission an independent inquiry into the handling of all pathogens with representation from the farming community.  

The government will continue its £121m programme of improvements, timetabled to be completed in 2012.

Mr Benn reiterated the importance of the Pirbright site to the agricultural industry, saying the work Merial and the IAH were responsible for is essential for the long term security of the industry.

Everyone involved – including DEFRA, IAH, Merial and the British Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council  – must take careful note of the recommendations contained in the report, he went on to add.

When questioned about the complacency of the IAH over biosecurity, the author of the Health and Safety Executive report, Geoffrey Podger commented that although the IAH had procedures in place, investigations had revealed numerous difficulties with record keeping, particularly concerned with which lorries had access.

The HSE had clear concerns over the potential state of the drainage at Pirbright, and fears were confirmed during the investigation, Mr Podger added.