An underground pipe that transported the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) virus between two buildings at the Pirbright site is now believed to have led to last month’s outbreak of Foot and Mouth. Investigators believe the virus was then spread further by vehicle movements in and out of the site, possibly those of temporary construction workers who were not subject to the same hygiene checks as those imposed on full-time staff.

The verdict is likely to cause further anger amongst farmers when the Government publishes the findings tomorrow morning. Shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth said: ‘While there is much speculation about exactly how this outbreak occurred one fact remains the same ? that it is both shocking and unacceptable that this virus could have escaped from a Government-licensed laboratory at all ? it seems that the Government is unable to ensure the safety of its own premises.’

Responsibility for the leak may lie with Merial, an independent American company employed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to produce a Foot and Mouth vaccine. The pipe, which is thought to have been damaged by a tree root, connected this facility with the Institute for Animal Health (IAH), a Government-run laboratory researching the disease.

Some have questioned why such an infectious virus was allowed to be transported in this way. Keith Plumb, of the Institute of Chemical Engineers, commented that ‘transferring dangerous liquid underground is not a good idea, since it is difficult to detect leaks.’

Reactions will become clearer when the two government-commissioned reports are released tomorrow morning; Defra has refused to comment until then.

For more information, visit the Defra site.