Merck, Sanofi lab probed for foot-and-mouth

Merial vaccine lab owned by Merck, Sanofi investigated as part of English foot-and-mouth outbreak.

By Aaron Smith, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- A vaccine laboratory in England that is being investigated for a potential link to a foot-and-mouth outbreak at a nearby farm is owned by vaccine manufacturers Merck and Sanofi-Aventis.

The lab, located in Surrey, southern England, is owned by Merial Animal Health, a pharmaceutical joint venture of Merck & Co., Inc, (up $0.34 to $51.69, Charts, Fortune 500) based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., and the Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis (up $0.24 to $41.86, Charts).

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, a British governmental agency, said the 38 cattle that were culled on a farm in Surrey were infected with a similar strain of foot-and-mouth disease used at Merial's vaccine-making lab in nearby Pirbright.

"The strain in a cow [at the farm] is similar to strains of virus that we work with in the production in the vaccines," said Steve Dickinson of Merial, which shut down production at the English lab this weekend.

Dickinson told on Monday that the lab had not vaccinated animals at the farm or anywhere else in England. He also said, "Our investigation found no breaches in biosecurity."

Merial, based in Duluth, Georgia, has 5,000 employees and more than $2 billion in annual sales.

The new Prime Minister Gordon Brown has vowed to take more aggressive measures in stamping out foot-and-mouth, following the massive outbreak in 2001, which lead to the culling of more than 3 million cattle and caused great pain to the nation's agricultural industry. The images of burning pyres of slaughtered livestock dotting the countryside weighed heavily on the English psyche, and were used to evoke a dystopian future in the Oscar-nominated film Children of Men.

Foot-and-mouth is a highly contagious viral disease affecting cloven-hooved animals including cows, pigs, sheep, goats and deer, causing blisters and lesions on the mouth, hooves and teats, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The United States has been free of the disease since nine outbreaks were quelled in 1929. Top of page