FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE

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The 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak

Foot-and-mouth was discovered at an Essex abattoir on 19 February 2001 and it quickly spread across the UK.

The highly infectious disease, which mainly affected cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, plunged the agricultural industry into its worst crisis for decades. Officially there were 2,000 cases of foot-and-mouth in the 2001 UK outbreak. But that doesn't do justice to the horrendous toll of the disease.

Each of those cases meant a farm having all of its livestock killed and burned. By the time the last case was confirmed at Whygill Head Farm in Appleby, Cumbria, on 30 September 2001, more than six million sheep, cattle and pigs had been slaughtered.

The first case to be discovered was at an abattoir in Essex in February 2001. Cases were discovered in Devon, Northumberland and North Wales in the first week, and the first mass slaughter was held to try and contain the virus. But by the second week further cases were confirmed in Cornwall and Scotland.

The culling policy saw not just the animals on the affected farm killed, but also all the animals in the surrounding area. Exclusion zones made travel in some areas almost impossible and tourism nose-dived. Despite these measures the epidemic continued.

The virus causes painful blisters inside the mouth and under the hooves, and can cause lameness and problems feeding. Rarely affecting humans, it could however kill young animals. Its sheer infectiousness prompted the massive cull.

TV screens were filled with images of giant bonfires of carcasses and soldiers digging mass graves. Overseas visitors to the UK dropped by 10%.

It's still a sad memory for the farmers involved. Philip Heard lost 3,000 cows, ewes and lambs.

"We were all preparing to put our livestock out to grass but with foot-and-mouth we suddenly weren't allowed to move them and we couldn't get extra feed without a special licence.

"It was a horrible thing to see our animals culled. We worked so hard to bring these animals into the world, it went against everything we worked for to see them killed."

It took nine months to bring foot-and-mouth under control, costing the UK's public sector £3bn and the private sector £5bn.

Amid the great public outcry the government promised lessons would be learned.

Read the full BBC article on foot-and-mouth disease

2001 foot-and-mouth timeline