Britain's health and safety agency claims foot-and-mouth outbreak could originate at a vaccine lab

Britain's health and safety agency aanounced Tuesday there is strong probability that a foot-and-mouth outbreak in southern England can find its roots at a vaccine lab.

The vaccine laboratory - just four miles (6.5 kilometers) from the first farm infected last week - is shared by the government's Institute for Animal Health, or IAH, and a private pharmaceutical company, Merial Animal Health, the British arm of Duluth, Georgia-based Merial Ltd.

There is a "real possibility" the disease was spread by human movement, and the possibility it was transmitted by air or flood water was "negligible," the government's Health and Safety Executive said in its initial report.

"Our assessment is that there is no reason to prevent the Institute for Animal Health from operating providing that all the usual biosecurity protocols are followed rigorously. In relation to Merial, we advise that further work be done before any operations involving live pathogens are restarted," health and safety agency's chief executive Geoffrey Podger said.

Merial said Monday night that it was temporarily resuming production of its foot-and-mouth disease vaccine to meet an order from the government for 300,000 doses of a strain-specific vaccine. It said in a statement that it was maintaining a voluntary suspension of all other activities at its Pirbright center, the one suspected of causing the outbreak.

Merial had previously said it found no evidence of a breach in biosecurity, and the IAH claimed a check of records found "limited use" of the virus in the past four weeks.