Foot and mouth – multiple biosecurity breaches at Pirbright

Reports into the foot and mouth outbreak in July have identified at least five breaches of biosecurity at the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright.

Leaking pipes, drains inadequate for flood water and failure to monitor people and vehicles are all cited as possible causes of the foot and mouth outbreak, outlined in two seperate reports published today (Friday 7 September).

There had been concerns regarding the state of pipework for several years and investigators found pipes clearly damaged by tree roots as well as misaligned joints.

However, no repairs had been carried out, possibly because of lack of funds, the report suggests.

Although investigators have not found a single point of failure allowing the foot and mouth virus to escape, they have outlined a scenario for what they believed to have happened:

• The virus was present in the pipe, which is allowed under current rules governing animal viruses. The pipe links Merial to a treatment plant run by the Institute.

• It was then flushed out of it during flooding at the site on 20 July.

• Vehicles used by contractors then drove into the flooded area allowing the virus to be picked up on the tyres or chassis.

• Those vehicles then left the site and travelled several miles to a road called Westward Lane which was also flooded, and there the waters washed the virus off the vehicles and into fields nearby where the cattle became infected.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, NFU president Peter Kendall said: “I’m very unhappy that everyone in the media seems to have learned about this report before we have.”

“It is outrageous and the government will be horrified to learn that this actual department that is meant to be helping it is being run in a way that allows these breaches.”


“If you look at any basic principles of fairness to the people who have been culled out, who have lost all their produce that they have been retailing locally, and when we see that it is the dilapidation of certain parts of the infrastructure (at Pirbright) that has caused this, then you can understand why these farmers will be talking to their lawyers later today.”

Shadow environment secretary, Peter Ainsworth added that the government is ultimately responsible for what has happened.

“I think it is profoundly shocking and will cause enormous anger in the farming community and the countryside generally that a site licensed by and monitored by the government can have been responsible for a leak of foot and mouth.

“It absolutely beggars belief and enormous lessons will have to be learnt from this.”

Emergency work is scheduled to be carried out on the drains, and a review will take place to assess whether animal diseases should be handled as strictly as human viruses.

For more on the foot and mouth outbreak, see our special report.

Farmers Weekly will update this story as more information is released.