Published:

Ainsworth_peter_2
"Bluetongue may be a misfortune but foot and mouth disease is different. The Government have been caught red-handed and are damned by their negligence. We know that the source of the outbreak was a Government-regulated and licensed laboratory. We also know from Professor Spratt’s report that the most likely cause of the infection was leaking drains. The Secretary of State has attempted to maintain that foot and mouth escaped from Pirbright through an extraordinary combination of circumstances, but the really extraordinary thing was the state of the drains at Pirbright.

The Government’s initial reaction to the outbreak was, I am afraid, characteristic. The Prime Minister announced that he was taking personal charge and immediately sent his spin machine into overdrive in an attempt to pin the blame on Merial, the private company at the site. That was shabby and dishonest and it smacked of desperation. The reason for the Prime Minister’s desperation to find a scapegoat has since become clear. As long ago as 2002, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council stated in an official report:

“Some laboratories and other areas of the Pirbright estate are not close to the standard expected of a modern bio-medical facility and are well below that expected of a facility of such importance”.

It recommended awarding funding for biosecurity at the site. What was the reaction from the then Chancellor? In the following two years, funding from DEFRA and other Government Departments to the Institute for Animal Health was cut.

It gets worse. In July 2004, Merial wrote to DEFRA with proposals to replace the drains. Nothing happened for two years. Tenders for repairing the drainage systems were finally received in October 2006. Why did it take so long to obtain those tenders? Why did work not start until July this year? Why were repairs to the drainage system not prioritised? Is it not clear that if the Government had acted in a timely way on the repeated warnings about the integrity of the effluent pipes at Pirbright, the farming industry would not be facing a bill for hundreds of millions of pounds, and the reputation of British science would not have been dealt a body blow."

More in Hansard here.

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