Pascal Bates prosecutes Pirbright Institute for foot and mouth disease controls failures in first ever case under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order 2008

July 11, 2014

Pascal Bates yesterday prosecuted the Pirbright Institute, a government-funded research facility recognised by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation as the world reference centre for foot and mouth disease, for failures in relation to its disease containment controls during repeated experiments.

Although no disease was on either occasion detected as having escaped from the Institute’s site, foot and mouth is a disease which very readily spreads between livestock, as it did with devastating consequences in previous outbreaks in the UK, notably recently in 2001 and 2007. The experiments in question were to examine the manner and extent to which the disease could transmit between cattle directly through close contact and indirectly through the air. In November 2012 and again in January 2013 the Institute’s scientists, technicians and engineers chose to override the automatic controls of the ventilation system – controls designed to help contain the disease – in order to prevent airflows that ventilation system would otherwise generate from compromising the transmission experiments. The interventions – substituting crude manual controls in November 2012 and turning off part of the system in January 2013 – were not properly thought through and led to breaches of the negative air pressure levels set to restrict the spread of the disease within and from the research facility.

The eight breaches of licence conditions set under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order 2008 related to failures properly to assess the risks, properly to set up operating procedures for this work, to maintain the negative air pressure levels, to keep regulators informed and to alert staff conducting the first experiment that the desired air pressure levels were not being attained.

This was the first time breaches of that Order, each of which is punishable by a fine of up to £5,000,had been prosecuted.The proceedings were brought by the Health and Safety Executive on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

City of London Magistrates’ Court, taking into account the Institute’s guilty pleas, limited public funding, charitable status and public apology, ordered it to pay over £72,000 in fines and costs.

For media coverage of this case please see the links below:

BBC News

ITV News

Farmers Weekly