A group of farmers have launched a legal claim against two laboratories blamed for last year's outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, it was announced today.
The case has been formally launched in the High Court by 14 livestock farmers whose businesses were affected by the outbreak in Normandy, Surrey, in August last year.
The claim has been brought against the Institute for Animal Health and Merial Animal Health Limited as operators of the Pirbright facility, and Defra Secretary Hilary Benn as licensor and regulator of the facility.
The claim alleges that IAH and Merial were negligent in that they caused or permitted the foot and mouth disease virus to escape from the Pirbright facility. It also alleges that the Secretary of State was negligent in that he failed to properly licence or regulate the facility's operation.
The losses claimed by the farmers include the slaughter of livestock and the disposal of livestock products, as well as losses incurred through being unable to move livestock on or off farms.
Both labs have denied any failure in their duty of care while the Government has denied any negligence. The claim is supported by the National Farmers Union (NFU) who have instructed solicitors on behalf of the group.
Those claiming include farmers close to the outbreak whose animals were slaughtered, as well as those further afield including sheep farmers from Cumbria and Powys and a pig breeding business from Yorkshire.
NFU president Peter Kendall said: "Many farming businesses were devastated by the impacts of the outbreak and this claim is about getting redress for those farmers.
"The effects of the outbreak were crippling for livestock farmers - milk had to be poured away, herds that had taken generations to breed had to be slaughtered, high quality livestock couldn't be exported or sold for breeding and instead had to go to slaughter, and animals couldn't be moved to fresh grazing and had to be left where they were.
"For many farmers, the impacts of the outbreak are still being felt today.
"This was not a case of foot and mouth disease coming in through our borders. The outbreak came from the Pirbright facility.
"Had there been proper biosecurity and containment measures in place at Pirbright, this outbreak wouldn't have happened. This claim is about holding to account those who were responsible."