The European Commission (EC) is to check laboratories, which hold samples of the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus across Europe, in the wake of a British outbreak reportedly caused by such a facility, officials confirmed.
"The Commission will carry out inspections in (Britain's) Pirbright and other FMD laboratories across the EU over the coming months," an EC press release stated. At present, 13 facilities across the EU are authorised to hold stocks of the live FMD virus, EC officials told DPA.
Germany, France and Austria have two each, while Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain each have one.
In addition, four facilities - one each in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Britain - have been authorised to hold stocks of the live virus in order to produce vaccines, officials said.
The decision to launch the inspections, made by the EC's Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health, follows an outbreak of FMD in the neighbourhood of the village of Pirbright, near London, in August.
Pirbright is home to both Britain's authorised laboratories - one the British government's Institute for Animal Health, and the other the privately owned Merial Animal Health.
Last week, two British reports identified leaking drainage pipes near the two facilities as the most likely source of the August outbreak of the disease, which hit animals on two farms near Pirbright and led to a temporary ban on all British meat exports.
The ban on exports from all of Britain outside the immediate area of the outbreak was lifted on Aug 23, while the ban on the outbreak area will be lifted after Nov 9, EC officials said. And the EU-wide inspection will "decide on further action that may be needed to prevent similar incidents occurring in the future," the press release added.
The August outbreak of FMD led to the slaughter of several hundred animals and a two-week ban on all animal exports from Britain.
An outbreak in Britain in 2001 led to the slaughter of some seven million animals and losses of some eight billion pounds ($15.87 billion).