Foot and mouth fear over move to close laboratory

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BRITAIN will be more vulnerable to another foot and mouth outbreak if the Government carries out plans to close an animal health laboratory in Thirsk, a leading vet has warned.

Paul Roger has also expressed concerned at the prospect of private labs and lamented the lack of consultation with industry experts.

Defra is planning to stop laboratory testing at Thirsk by the end of March 2012 as it looks to cut costs, meaning the scientists who support vets when making diagnosis of potentially devastating diseases will go.

The closure, alongside similar plans for labs in the South West in Langford and Truro, would put more than 100 jobs at risk.

And now Paul Roger, the president of the Yorkshire Veterinary Society, is warning that the move would leave the country open to another foot and mouth, E.coli or salmonella outbreak.

“It should be remembered that although veterinary clinicians are very experienced, the back-up they get from laboratory scientists is huge, ” he said. “The identification of some of these organisms is quite difficult.

“If you remove those people and their specialist knowledge, you remove part of the investigation team and you stand more chance of missing things.

“That has implications not only for animal health, but public health also – for example, zoonotic diseases that are common to both people and animals such as E.coli or salmonella.

“We are very concerned because not only do you risk devaluing the service locally, but it raises questions about the quality of the surveillance across the country for identifying diseases and the entry of new diseases.”

The Government confirmed that the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) is undertaking “a review of its delivery network.”

The plan would see laboratory services stop at Thirsk, Langford and Truro by the end of March 2012. The second phase would see laboratory work finish at Preston, Carmarthen, Aberystwyth, Luddington and Winchester by March 2013.

AHVLA’s intention is to retain laboratory services at Penrith, Shrewsbury, Starcross, Bury St Edmunds, Sutton Bonington, Newcastle, Weybridge and Lasswade. The spokesman said work from the laboratories affected would be transferred to the eight that would continue to operate.

He said: “These changes do not imply or rely on site closures to generate savings. Other laboratory functions are carried out across AHVLA’s network, for example, veterinary surveillance work, and these proposals do not include any changes to these work areas.”

A decision on the plan will be made in two to three weeks.