Examination of Witnesses (Questions 230-239)
31 MARCH 2008
Q230 Chairman: Good afternoon and we
welcome very much indeed Professor Martin Shirley, the Director
of the Institute for Animal Health, Professor Robin Weiss, the
President for the Society for General Microbiology and Mr Michael
Stephens from the Institute of Safety in Technology and Research.
Welcome to you all. Professor Shirley, we have heard an awful
lot about the Callaghan report, about the regulatory framework
for animal and human pathogens coming together being a logical
step. Do you agree? Why was this not suggested before if it is
such a logical step?
Professor Shirley: In answer to
your first question the answer is yes, we do agree. This is a
discussion we have had at the Institute. We agree for a number
of reasons, many of which have been said in the previous session.
It clarifies and straightens out the current arrangements, ie
it will remove any conflict of interest from the current regulator,
which is a very important point. What we would like to see is
a regulator that is properly resourced and we have commented that
the HSE will be resourced in that way. There will be staff with
a lot of expertise. I think we also look forward to some of the
transparency and consistency across a site such as the one we
have at Pirbright. For a number of reasons we are welcoming this.
Q231 Chairman: You have not answered
the question as to why it was not suggested before?
Professor Shirley: I really do
not know what it has not been discussed before. It probably takes
something like the incident at Pirbright to concentrate minds
and to make this a catalyst of change.
Q232 Chairman: Michael Stevens, in
terms of safety clearly we are movingI think everybody
has accepted the Callaghan recommendationsto a system which
is based on risk assessment and notification as the best solution.
However, should there be permission required before anyone starts
work on any of these pathogens or is that quite sufficient in
Mr Stephens: I think it has worked
exceedingly well up until now and it is fully sufficient. I do
not see the necessity to go towards, let us say, laboratory certification
or individual certification, for example, as they do in other
Q233 Chairman: You think it is perfectly
Mr Stephens: Yes.
Q234 Chairman: Do you, Professor
Professor Weiss: Yes.
Q235 Chairman: So we did not have
a problem last summer at Pirbright.
Professor Weiss: Nothing is perfectly
sufficient; yes, we did have a problem last summer. I should declare
an interest here, I used to be Chair of the governing body of
the Institute of Animal Health but stepped down well before that
but I am familiar with the situation.
Q236 Chairman: Are you satisfied
that the current regulationsthe regulations post-Callaghan
that are coming inare watertight or are there any gaps
we should perhaps flag up in our report?
Professor Shirley: I think they
are probably watertight because the HSE and Defra are certainly
working well together and they are spending quite a lot of time
in our company as well. I think there is a very good dialogue
on the ground now to make this transition period work before we
go into the final phase.
Q237 Chairman: What about keeping
inventories and missing pathogens and things of that nature? Are
they all watertight?
Professor Shirley: The Institute
for Animal Health operates to a code of practice for research
and clearly keeping stocks under control is part of that inventory
system. I suspect that no system is ever going to be watertight
because one can never legislate for malicious behaviour, but on
the whole it is now done as well as it can be.
Q238 Chairman: Professor Weiss, what
about the classification of dangerous pathogens? We have received
some evidence that there is some confusion at times about what
constitutes a particularly dangerous pathogen at a particular
level. Do you feel further work needs to be done on that or are
you perfectly satisfied as well that that is okay?
Professor Weiss: I think there
is a danger of incremental creep that Sir Leszek has already touched
on. It is of crucial importance to keep the really dangerous pathogens
controlled. If we keep upping pathogens that can be dangerous
in certain individuals or in certain situations up to Category
3 and then Category 4 then we are going to get clogged up and
we need to keep an eye on this. It has already been mentioned
that if blue tongue becomes endemic in the UK then it becomes
less dangerous in containment in the laboratories because it is
already out there. This is a situation that changes over time
and I would be concerned that we do not keep upping the ante but
we do a proper risk assessment with the situation at that time
for individual pathogens.
Q239 Chairman: Do you share that,
Mr Stephens: I do. I think there
is a real danger with this creep, as Professor Weiss has said,
that pathogens that are not truly Category 4 can creep into Category
4 and dilute the risk perception on individual scientists working