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UK Animal Disease Facility Hits a Snag

12 February 2009

UK - Plans to build a £121-million (US$180-million) animal-pathogen facility in the United Kingdom are likely to have to be scaled back after the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) walked away from the project, wrote Natasha Gilbert.

The decision is a "big setback for the United Kingdom's ability to respond to animal diseases and to protect the livestock industry", Keith Gull, a microbiologist at the University of Oxford and chairman of the governing body for the country's Institute for Animal Health (IAH), told the Nature News author.

According to Nature News, in 2005, DEFRA agreed with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department of Trade and Industry to redevelop ageing facilities at the IAH's Pirbright site — in 2007, a poorly maintained drainpipe there led to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. But the project, which was due to be completed in 2011, has been delayed until 2013. Costs have also been rising; £33 million has already been spent, although it is not clear on what.

The BBSRC is now reassessing the size and scale of the plans. "The vision of the joint venture with DEFRA was to bring together our complementary activities; the BBSRC is now taking this project forward alone," says Matt Goode, a BBSRC spokesman.

DEFRA was to have contributed around £58 million to the new building and to move about 70 staff there from its Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge. DEFRA would not confirm whether it has abandoned the project, but it says in a statement that it has no plans to stop spending £5.8 million per year on research and surveillance on exotic diseases at the IAH.

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