A BIO-SCIENCES company based in Cheshire has admitted possessing highly infectious bird flu and West Nile virus without a licence.

Thermo Electron Ltd (trading as Fisher BioServices) provides diagnostic tools to veterinary laboratories around the world, including a testing solution for avian influenza.

Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard that in September 2017, concerns were raised about biological agents that had arrived at the company’s site in Bishop Stortford, in a shipment from overseas.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that between April 2016 and February 2018, Thermo Electron Limited was in possession of a large quantity of infectious avian influenza and West Nile virus.

Both of these biological agents are specified as requiring a licence under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order 2008 (SAPO). Enquiries confirmed the company had obtained no such licence.

Thermo Electron Ltd (trading as Fisher BioServices) of Ashley Road, Altrincham, Cheshire, admitted two breaches of Section 73(a) of the Animal Health Act 1981 and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £80,000.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE specialist inspector Dr David Johnson said: “The use of high hazard animal pathogens is tightly regulated in the UK to ensure that exotic animal diseases such as Avian influenza, are not introduced which could threaten the UK livestock economy.

“The licencing regime enables HSE to authorise possession of such agents and requires the implementation of strict conditions for those wanting to conduct work with specified animal pathogens.

“Companies like the defendant contribute to critical scientific research and in vast majority of cases the sector complies with the understandably stringent regulations in place.

“However, as soon as Thermo Electron Ltd became aware it didn’t have the appropriate licence, immediate steps could have been taken including safely destroying the material, returning it to the sender, or transferring it to an appropriately licenced site.

“There are lessons to be learnt here and we’d ask those involved in the biosciences sector to take note of this case.”

  • According to the NHS, West Nile Virus is spread by mosquitoes in many countries. There are usually no symptoms and it gets better with treatment.

Bird flu, or avian flu, is an infectious type of influenza that spreads among birds. In rare cases, it can affect humans. There are lots of different strains of bird flu virus but most don't infect humans.