Preventing animal disease is important for animal health and welfare, but animal diseases including those of fish and shellfish, can also be a risk to human health.

Serious disease outbreaks can be expensive. Depending on their severity, previous outbreaks of certain diseases, like Foot and Mouth disease, have cost between £2 million and £3 billion, with knock-on economic effects.

Diseases also have longer-term economic and social effects, for example, on farmers trying to do business, including trading animals and animal products.

Imports and exports of animals and animal products are important for the UK economy. However, they need to be controlled because they can also carry a risk of disease.

Farmers and other animal keepers play a vital part in helping to prevent disease, reporting diseases when they occur and stopping them from spreading.


Defra is responsible for controlling certain animal diseases when they happen, and also helping to advise farmers and other people who keep animals on how to prevent disease. It’s important that diseased animals don’t enter or leave the country, that livestock movements are controlled and traceable, and that disease doesn’t enter the food chain.

Preventing animal diseases

To help prevent animal disease, we’re:

Controlling animal diseases

We’re responsible for controlling certain diseases when they happen. Different diseases are dealt with in different ways, including:

  • legal requirements to notify the Animal and Plant Health Agency or the Fish Health Inspectorate (as appropriate) if you suspect certain diseases
  • monitoring and testing for disease

  • controls to stop disease being spread if it’s detected, which can include slaughtering animals

EU law requires all member states to have specific controls on certain diseases.

Monitoring disease outbreaks and funding research

We’re funding research on animal diseases, so we can build policies on a good scientific evidence base.

We’re also monitoring major animal disease outbreaks worldwide, to check whether they pose a risk to the UK, and to raise awareness.

Working with professional bodies involved in animal disease

We’re working with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and other bodies to find ways to modernise and bring their working methods in line with other regulated professions.


Much of the work we do in all aspects of animal health is governed by EU law and implemented by national rules. For example, EU law requires member states to run disease control programmes for some diseases (like salmonella in poultry), and monitor trends for others.

In 2002, the EU introduced a regulation to control the use and disposal of animal by-products. This was in response to a number of crises in animal and public health in which animal by-products were implicated, including Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (known as mad cow disease) and Foot and Mouth disease. The regulation was reviewed and updated in 2011.

The EU also introduced specific rules on identifying and registering the various species or animals, which were then set out in national legislation.

Who we’re working with

The Animal Health and Welfare Board for England (AHWBE) for England makes direct recommendations to Ministers on policy affecting the health and welfare of all kept animals, such as farm animals, horses and pets.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) is the executive agency with responsibility for many areas relating to animal health and diseases, including inspection and surveillance.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for food safety and food hygiene across the UK. They work with local authorities to enforce food safety regulations, including regulations on animal by-products.

UK exports of animals and animal products are facilitated and imports are controlled by our work with the AHVLA, the FSA, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), port health authorities and local authorities.

Defra provides secretariat support for the UK Zoonoses, Animal Diseases and Infections Group (UKZADI), which advises government on important trends that might affect animal or human health.

Defra, the Health and Safety Executive and the Department of Health are jointly responsible for the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens.

The Environment Agency investigates fish mortalities caused by poor environmental conditions, pollution and fish disease in fisheries and the wild. It also carries out other tasks on fish health including health checks, monitoring and surveillance to manage disease risks and ensuring good fishery management.

The Fish Health Inspectorate is responsible for the control of serious diseases in fish and shellfish, including inspection and surveillance

We also work with a number of other committees, including:

Bills and legislation

Disease controls

Legislation to control animal diseases includes the Animal Health Act 1981, as amended, and there are also other national Orders made.

Find details of relevant EU and national legislation for individual notifiable diseases.

Animal pathogens

There are laws and regulations about laboratory containment and import of animal pathogens (anything that can cause disease, such as a virus).

Defra administers these laws, the Importation of Animal Pathogens Order 1980 (as amended) and the Specified Animal Pathogens Order (SAPO) (England) 2008.

We provide forms and guidance on animal pathogens.

Animal by-products

The EU Animal By-Products Regulation 1069/2009, and accompanying EU Implementing Regulation 142/2011, set the rules for how animal by-products must be handled, used, transported and disposed of in the UK.

In England the Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (England) Regulations No.2011/881 enforce the requirements of the EU regulations. Similar legislation applies in the rest of the UK.

The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966

The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 regulates veterinary surgeons and also those who carry out minor procedures that are classified as acts of veterinary surgery under Section 19 (4) (e) of the Act.