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Science MPs horrified by UK bio-lab management

Porton Downer

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MPs have painted a embarrassing picture of the UK’s bio research facilities, describing some labs as “shabby” and “deplorable” after years of underinvestment and neglect.

The Innovations, Universities, Science and Skills committee launched its investigation after the foot and mouth outbreak in Surrey last year, which was eventually traced to a leaky drain at the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright.

If anyone thought the situation at Pirbright was a one-off, they’ll be disappointed. The report uncovered shortcomings in the way capacity for high containment research (i.e. boffins playing around with scary scary stuff) is provided.

While Porton Down’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory was described as “world class” and “state of the art”, others including the Health Protection Agency site at at Porton Down, and the IAH, were “in need of significant investment given their age”.

The committee identified a “striking lack of co-ordination between organisations who sponsor and run high containment laboratories,” with no one minister having a “strategic overview” of the systems.

Unsurprisingly there were also shortcomings in the funding for the system, particularly for ongoing maintenance. So it’s no surprise that the UK’s most recent foot and mouth outbreak was down to something as mundane as a leaky drain at Pirbright.

The committee made a number of recommendations, including the shocking idea that there should be “complete clarity” over who is in charge of biosecurity, “especially” on sites of “mixed ownership or sponsorship such as at Pirbright”.

Such a “controlling mind” must be “clearly identified and be expected to manage the risks that it creates”, the committee said.

And, into the bargain, the committee reckons “the Government should know the location, capacity and capability of all high containment laboratories in the UK”.

The full report can be found here. ®

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