U.K. Investigators: Foot and Mouth Outbreak Caused by Lab Leak

Investigators have determined a pipe at a research laboratory in southern England caused last month's outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Wednesday.

Britain's Health and Safety Executive found there were biosecurity lapses at the facility in Pirbright, Surrey, according to reports in the British media. The investigators' official report was due to be published Friday.

The Environment Department would not comment on the report Wednesday.

The lab complex houses vaccine-maker Merial Animal Health — the British arm of U.S.-French pharmaceutical firm Merial Ltd. — and the government's Institute of Animal Health.

Virus traces were found in a pipe running from Merial's lab to a treatment plant operated by the government-run lab, the reports said, adding the pipe may have been damaged by tree roots.

Investigators found contractors working at Pirbright traveled to and from the site using a country road next to the farm where the first outbreak occurred.

Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals including cows, sheep, pigs and goats. It does not typically infect humans, but its appearance among farm animals can have a far-reaching economic impact.

After the outbreak was detected Aug. 3, Britain suspended exports of livestock, meat and milk products for nearly three weeks.

About 600 animals were slaughtered as a result of the outbreak. The National Farmers' Union said restrictions on meat exports cost the industry about $3.5 million a day since the first case was confirmed.

Though several sites were tested, only two farms — both about 30 miles southwest of London — had cattle confirmed with the disease.