Damning report on Defra’s Weybridge facility
The Redevelopment of Defra’s animal health infrastructure report has been released today [16th November] by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts and it hits out at Government as not sufficiently prioritising the “significant threat to UK health, trade, farming and rural communities” posed by animal diseases.
Tony Goodger, marketing and communications manager for AIMS told Meat Management: “The first few lines of the report are sufficient to set the alarm bells ringing that when it comes to animal disease and the threat they pose to the country’s food security the woeful lack of investment and mismanagement at the APHA lab in Weybridge is inexcusable and once again shows that the livestock industry is simply not front of mind within the Government’s plans for critical infrastructure.”
In its report the Committee found there were: “Over 1,000 ‘single points of failure’ that would cause “major disruption” at the Weybridge site. Due to the considerable time taken to get a redevelopment programme up and running a “critical works ‘patch and repair’ programme” will run until the redevelopment programme is due to be completed in 2036.
The Committee said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had “comprehensively failed in its historical management” of the UK’s primary site for managing plant and animal disease threats at Weybridge (APHA). Deterioration due to “inadequate management and under-investment” had left the site “continually vulnerable to a major breakdown”, which would severely impact the ability to effectively respond to disease outbreaks. The centre would already “struggle” with higher than a medium category outbreak, or any multiple outbreaks. The UK faces current and ongoing threats from Bovine Tuberculosis and potential new diseases including African Swine Fever and rabies.
Goodger added: “The retort of ‘learning lessons’ can no longer be seen as being acceptable when the outbreaks of animal disease impact the country’s access to domestically produced meat and poultry leaving us exposed to the vagaries of global markets to plug the gap.
“The expected bill resulting from the current outbreak of Avian Influenza is likely to dwarf the investment, which is required at Weybridge, investment which may have helped lessen the impacts the industry is now experiencing.”
He concluded: “This report should act as a warning to the politicians that knowing the cost of something is never sufficient if you don’t understand the value of it.”
Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “After the 2001 disaster of foot and mouth disease, the past decades have brought one animal sourced disease after another. It is shocking that government has allowed UK capacity in this area to deteriorate so alarmingly over that same period. These diseases are devastating for our food production systems, economy and, when they jump the species barrier to humans as Covid-19 did, to our whole society. Government must get a grip on this crucial and much delayed redevelopment programme. When it comes to the safety of our country we cannot afford more of the waste and delivery failures that continue to characterise far too many major projects.”