The UK’s role in the fight against zoonotic diseases – those which are transmitted from animals to humans including avian flu and bovine tuberculosis – has received a major boost, as Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed the allocation of £200 million for a programme of investment into a state-of-the-art revamp of the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) scientific laboratories at Weybridge.
The Weybridge laboratory known for its specialist research and laboratory facilities, and its animal health science and disease control capabilities, with a focus on tackling and eradicating high-risk animal diseases.
The investment will offer APHA greater capacity to track diseases of concern across the globe and conduct research into a growing number of high-risk threats in advanced high-containment laboratories.
APHA is responsible for safeguarding animal and plant health, including its integral role in controlling the outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in 2001. Research at Weybridge has paved the way for field trials of a TB cattle vaccine which, if successful, will enable farmers to vaccinate their animals against this deadly disease.
APHA is also playing an essential role in tackling the largest outbreak of avian flu on record, supporting the rapid response to try to limit its spread and ensuring that the poultry industry is able to continue to operate. This investment in facilities will further enable Weybridge scientists to quickly sample, analyse and confirm the presence of bird flu in a location so APHA can act fast to tackle the threat.
New equipment and specialist testing facilities will enable APHA scientists to identify pathogens for existing and emerging threats posed by diseases spread by animals, and maintain our high biosecurity standards against Bovine TB, Salmonella and avian flu.
Defra Biosecurity Minister Lord Benyon said: “I have seen for myself the remarkable work done by APHA in responding to the recent outbreak of Avian Influenza, and in paving the way for field trials of a cattle vaccine against Bovine Tuberculosis. This investment builds on a long-term programme to future-proof our animal health capabilities, and ensure that we are at the forefront of defence against future pandemics.”
Defra chief scientific advisor Gideon Henderson said the investment in APHA’s capability: “Recognises the essential role of this government laboratory, and will enable its excellent scientists to continue at the forefront of research and policy to protect the country, boosting our resilience and strengthening our understanding of health risks to, and from, animals and plants.”
UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss commented that fast, reliable testing and world-class animal disease surveillance will continue to be vital in halting the spread of animals diseases and mitigating the risk of pandemics. “This investment ensures APHA can continue its critical role in animal health science and help stop the spread of disease,” she said.