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Lab testing to cease at Bury St Edmunds

2nd Feb 2017 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has expressed concern at the implications of a move to cease laboratory testing at a key Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) facility in Suffolk.

apha logoTesting at APHA’s Bury St Edmunds laboratory will cease in March 2018, as the agency undergoes further rationalisation.

APHA testing services will be consolidated into six laboratories  - Carmarthen, Lasswade, Newcastle, Penrith, Starcross and Weybridge – after it ends at Sutton Bonington by June 2017 and Shrewsbury and Bury St Edmunds by March 2018.

APHA said the changes, which will deliver savings of around £1.3 million a year, would help it respond to animal disease threats.

An agency spokesperson said: “APHA is changing the way some of its lab services work is delivered, concentrating testing in fewer locations with bigger specialist teams.

“The move will ensure the agency has the best expertise in the right place to respond to future animal disease outbreaks and detect and investigate new threats to protect animal health, people and trade.”

Testing for notifiable diseases will be unaffected. This will continue to be carried out at APHA’s Weybridge lab and at the Pirbright Institute.

Disease control concerns

However, losing disease testing facilities in a core pig producing area like East Anglia inevitably raises concerns within the industry about disease control.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “APHA staff at Bury St Edmunds have always provided an excellent service to the pig sector when it comes to rapid diagnosis of disease. Its location in one of the biggest big pig producing areas of the country has been an important part of this.

“While we understand the pressure on Defra’s budgets and the desire to seek a more efficient way of working within APHA, we will continue to seek assurances this does not compromise our ability to maintain a healthy pig herd.”

In a further sign of rationalisation within Defra, department and agency staff currently located in three London buildings, are to move into the building occupied by the Home Office, reducing property costs by about £2m a year.

A report on the Civil Service’s readiness for Brexit by the Institute for Government noted that about 80 per cent of the Department’s work is ‘framed’ by EU legislation but staff levels have fallen by a third since 2010 and day-to-day spending by more than a fifth since 2011/12.

Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom sought to reassure delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference that the necessary expertise was in place.

But when the sizeable audience was asked whether they shared her confidence, only one hand was raised – that of Farming Minister George Eustice.