Animal disease - major outbreak of foot and mouth disease

Impact 5
risk indicator
ID 56a
Risk theme Human, animal and plant health
Impact & Likelihood
Impact key
5 Catastrophic
4 Significant
3 Moderate
2 Limited
1 Minor
Likelihood key
5 >25%
4 5-25%
3 1-5%
2 0.2-1%
1 <0.2%


Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a severe, highly infectious viral disease with significant economic impact, affecting several types of animal including cattle, pigs, sheep, deer and goats. This is spread easily, for example through direct contact with infected animals, with secretions of infected animals, with products of infected animals (meat, milk, hair), clothing, contact with contaminated equipment, vehicles and feed. The last major FMD outbreak in the UK was observed in 2001, which resulted in the culling of over 6 million animals. FMD is a notifiable disease throughout the UK and anyone who suspects disease must immediately report it. The Animal and Plant Health Agency monitors FMD outbreaks internationally and publishes outbreak assessments considering the risk posed to UK livestock on GOV.UK.


The reasonable worst-case scenario assumes that FMD is introduced into a sheep-farming area. Infected animals that are not yet exhibiting clinical signs would be sold or moved to other premises before the disease is detected, resulting in multiple geographically dispersed outbreaks. The culling and disposal of approximately 1.9 million animals on over 2,900 premises could be required. This scenario is of much greater scale than the most recent FMD outbreak in 2007, but less than the 2001 outbreak due to improvements to livestock movement regimes and control policies.

Key assumptions

There is a constant but low risk of an incursion of an exotic notifiable animal disease into the UK. The risk likelihood will vary throughout the year depending on season and disease status and trade status of other countries.


If this scenario were to occur concurrently with another emergency, the scale, impact and duration of the outbreak is likely to increase.

Response capability requirements

Specialist staff would be required to conduct surveillance and dispose of infected animals. These include vets, animal
technicians, licensed slaughterers and carcass disposal logistics experts, in addition to sufficient carcass transport, rendering and incineration capacity. Sufficient laboratory capacity to undertake surveillance in all susceptible livestock would also be needed, along with, disease-modelling experts, epidemiologists, wildlife experts, administrators and trained policy staff.

Local authority staff would be required to conduct enforcement activities, which at the outset and peak of the outbreak could be on a national scale. Sufficient approved personal protective equipment (PPE), respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and approved disinfectant would be necessary across government and operational partners.

If a vaccination policy is introduced, stocks of vaccines, capacity to roll out vaccination and additional surveillance would be needed.


For foot and mouth disease, the minimum period to regain country- free status for international trade is 3 months from the date of culling and preliminary culling and disposal of the last FMD-infected premises. If vaccination is used, exports can resume no sooner than 3 months after the last vaccinated animal has been culled, or 6 months after the date of last vaccination if a vaccinate-to-live policy is adopted. There would also be long-term impacts on the environment (particularly around burial sites), livestock sector, and rural economy.