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An independent report on the 2007 foot-and-mouth outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has highlighted poor management and under funding at the “shabby and dilapidated” laboratory at the centre of the outbreak.

Report author, Iain Anderson, said the outbreak was “an avoidable event that should never have happened”. But while the government’s response was better than that seen to the last outbreak in 2001, there were still deficiencies to be addressed.

While the leadership shown by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn and the then chief veterinary officer Debby Reynolds was inspirational to those on the ground, there are doubts as to whether the actions taken were proportionate.

Response

The report, foot-and-mouth disease 2007: A review and lessons learned, largely endorses the recommendations and conclusions of three earlier reports connected with the outbreak.

Speaking to the press at the publication of his report on Tuesday (11 March) Dr Anderson said the 2007 response was “action orientated and sharp-edged a stark contrast to that of 2001”.

But several areas remain poor. In particular risk management and information systems remain weak. He also doubts whether the staffing levels, which averaged 250 people per day throughout the outbreak with a peak of 400 per day, could be scaled up in the event of a larger outbreak.

Action

In a statement to the House of Commons, DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn was quick to point out that many of the observations recorded by Dr Anderson are already being acted upon.

“Many of Dr Anderson’s recommendations encourage us to build on the improvements that have already been made for example in strengthening communications, assessing and managing risk and exercising and testing contingency plans. I agree that even when things have gone well, we can always do better in future.

“As well as finding much progress compared to 2001, Dr Anderson’s review also points to things that didn’t go right and where further action is recommended.

“In relation to Pirbright and the Institute for Animal Health, we have already taken action. 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, including that responsibility for the regulation of animal pathogens should transfer to the Health and Safety Executive.

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