Foot-and-mouth lab gets £100m makeover

More than £100m is to be spent turning the government laboratory at the centre of the 2007 foot-and-mouth outbreak into a state-of-the-art research facility.

Leaky drains and a lack of investment were blamed when the deadly virus escaped from the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright, Surrey.

After almost two years, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has finally announced that the institute will be modernised.

Professor Douglas Kell, chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), said the funding would be money well spent.

“This new funding is a major boost for animal health research in the UK and great news for the UK scientific community,” he said.

“This redevelopment at Pirbright will strengthen our strategic capability to protect UK livestock and other animals – including people – from devastating diseases.”

The decision follows extensive calls for more investment in research to help ensure animal welfare and contribute to global food security.

Farmers in south-east England and beyond saw their livelihoods devastated when foot-and-mouth escaped from the laboratory in summer 2007.

A subsequent investigation recommended that Pirbright should be redeveloped to ensure it remained at the forefront of animal health research.

Institute director Martin Shirley said the investment was a vote of confidence in the world class science carried out by researchers at the facility.

It also recognised the increasing threats posed by diseases such as foot-and-mouth, bluetongue, and African swine fever, he added.

The investment would ensure the UK remained in a position to control, contain and eradicate the threats of established and emerging diseases of animals.

“This is particularly important now as vector-borne diseases are spreading northwards as a consequence of the changing climate.

“IAH already attracts and trains the best scientific talent in livestock research across the globe and provision of the new laboratory will ensure that this remains the case.”

The Pirbright redevelopment is expected to be completed in 2013.