UK ‘in danger of biosecurity outbreak’

There is still a risk to the UK of outbreaks of highly-dangerous pathogens due to a lack of investment in biosecurity, an influential committee of MPs has said.

The innovation, universities, science and skills (IUSS) committee said on Monday several high containment facilities are in need of “significant investment”.

Its report singles out the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright, Surrey, and the Health Protection Agency at Porton Down, Wiltshire, over shortcomings in maintenance funding.

Faulty piping between Pirbright and a nearby Merial site is widely-believed to have been responsible for last summer’s foot-and-mouth outbreak.

The IUSS committee also criticises a lack of coordination between sites with containment level four (CL4) status; the highest category of dangerous pathogens.

Its members are calling on a single minister or organisation to be given a remit of maintaining a strategic overview of the UK’s biosecurity facilities.

The committee also wants biannual reports on the UK’s ability to respond to dangerous pathogens and for the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to settle the share the cost of its redevelopment.

“At present the UK enjoys a high international profile in the field of infectious disease which it is essential to maintain but that can only be done if we protect the economy and the health of humans and animals effectively by ensuring that appropriate bio-risk management occurs at these high containment facilities,” commented committee chairman Phil Willis.

“The outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease at Pirbright highlights that in the long run, proper regulation, running and maintenance of high containment facilities is considerably cheaper than remedying a breach of bio-containment.”

Going some way to proving the committee’s main point of a lack of leadership on biosecurity, DIUS and Defra both fielded press queries to the other department.

A DIUS spokesperson did tell the committee’s report would be taken into “careful consideration”.