New lab planned to battle bugs

Last updated 13:00 29/03/2014

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The Ministry for Primary Industries plans to build a sophisticated new high security biological laboratory at its National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Disease in Upper Hutt.

The ministry is advertising for registrations of interest from contractors to build the new lab beside the now- closed Upper Hutt Agresearch campus in Ward St, Wallaceville,

The present lab is the only facility in New Zealand approved to contain some high- risk pathogens and was set up to diagnose exotic animal diseases like foot and mouth disease, scrapie, avian influenza and equine influenza.

National Bio-Containment Laboratory project director Joseph O'Keefe said the laboratory had an essential role in responding to animal disease outbreaks, protecting public health and providing assurances about New Zealand's disease freedom status.

The present lab had an excellent safety record but it was coming to the end of its design life and technology and standards had moved on since it was commissioned in 1998.

The ministry wanted to ensure it had the best possible facilities to manage a significant animal disease outbreak and rule out reports of suspect exotic disease from around the country.

This type of surveillance was important for reassuring consumers and trading partners and a world- standard diagnostic laboratory was essential.

High security labs should be in isolated locations and need sophisticated filtering systems to ensure there is no risk that pathogens can escape. There are also strict protocols for handling infective materials, with staff required to wear special pressure suits and to shower when they leave the labs.

A Canadian company specialising in lab design has been commissioned to do concepts designs for the project which still needs Cabinet approval.

O'Keefe said it was too early to make any comment on the budget as it was still working on a detailed business case for a range of options to present to Cabinet.

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- The Dominion Post

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