Regulations about animal health on farms: what to do if you suspect a disease outbreak and how diseases are controlled.
Farmers have a duty to prevent the spread of disease - between animals, from animals to humans, and from humans to animals. Certain diseases are classified as notifiable. If you suspect an animal has a notifiable disease you must inform the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) immediately.
This guide explains how disease is spread, which diseases are notifiable, when and whom you must notify, and restrictions and disease controls you must implement. It also covers the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra’s) contingency plans, inspections and contact details for useful organisations.
Controlling and eradicating disease
The Animal Health Act 1981 regulates the prevention, control and eradication of animal diseases. It provides emergency powers to respond to the outbreak of exotic diseases and covers aspects of disease control, including the following:
- eradication and prevention of disease
- dealing with an outbreak of disease
- powers of entry - for veterinary inspectors and officers of the minister
- seizure of infected animals
- slaughter and compensation
- disposal of infected carcases
- cleansing and movement of animals, personnel and vehicles
- empowerment of local authorities and enforcement
Disease spreads more easily when hygiene is poor. A good routine is essential at all times, not only when there is an outbreak of disease.
You should also ensure you take appropriate biosecurity measures to protect your stock. For more information on biosecurity and prevention measures, see the guide on disease prevention.
Disease in animals can spread through any of the following:
- movement of animals, people and machinery between or within farms
- farm visitors - people and vehicles
- introduction of new animals
- contact with neighbours’ livestock
- shared farm equipment
- contamination by vermin and wild birds
- animals drinking from contaminated rivers and streams
Vigilance and good stockmanship are important in the control and prevention of animal disease. You should monitor animals for signs of disease, and follow good farming practices. This will reduce the risk of disease and prevent the spread of it during an outbreak.
You must ensure employees and the public are safe if they are at risk of infection from exposure to notifiable diseases. However, livestock disease is not the only risk to employees and the public on farms. You can read about health and safety management in agriculture on the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website.
It is your duty to prevent the spread of disease by immediately informing your AHVLA office if you suspect a notifiable disease.
If you identify - or suspect - that an animal has a notifiable disease you must report it to the veterinary authorities.
Diseases can be either of the following:
- endemic - these are continually present in Great Britain, eg tuberculosis in cattle, and scrapie in sheep
- exotic - these are not normally found in Great Britain, eg avian influenza, foot and mouth disease, swine fever and rabies
Some animal diseases - called zoonoses - are infectious to humans. You must work with public health authorities to minimise the risk of these diseases. AHVLA works with private vets and owners of animals in Great Britain and encourages them to report any suspected infection. Find more information on zoonotic diseases on the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) website.
Exotic notifiable diseases with internationally agreed eradication policies include:
- avian influenza
- classical swine fever
- foot and mouth disease
- Newcastle disease
You should try to prevent notifiable diseases occurring at all. Introduce strict biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of animal disease, eg regular cleansing and disinfecting on and off your premises. For more information on prevention measures, see the guide on disease prevention.
Other measures to prevent disease can include careful restocking, practising good biosecurity, and being ready to take action to control specific diseases if you find them.
Notifying your AHVLA office of disease outbreak in animals
AHVLA is an executive agency of Defra and is primarily responsible for ensuring that farmed animals in Great Britain are healthy, disease-free and well looked after. Its key role is to:
- implement government policies aimed at preventing or managing outbreaks of serious animal diseases
- support the farming industry
- protect the welfare of farmed animals
- safeguard public health from animal borne disease
You must also impose movement restrictions on your farm if you think your stock may be infected with a notifiable disease and you should contact your vet immediately.
When a notifiable disease is confirmed, AHVLA puts in place measures to control the spread of disease. This will include:
- restricting animal movements and swiftly examining and testing stock that may have had contact with infected animals or live in close proximity to them
- arranging for the slaughter and safe disposal of infected animals
- undertaking epidemiological work to identify the source of the disease
- establishing surveillance zones to look for further disease
The AHVLA may set up surveillance zones to prevent further spread until the disease has been controlled. Find Defra’s contingency plan for exotic disease outbreaks.
Restrictions and controls following disease outbreak
If a notifiable disease is confirmed amongst your animals, there are likely to be automatic restrictions placed upon your premises as part of Defra’s contingency plan for disease outbreaks.
For information on preventing notifiable diseases, see the guide on farm health and safety: the basics.
When a notifiable disease is confirmed on a site, notices will be posted at all entrances to the premises, and the movement of people on and off the farm will be controlled - except certain people under licence. Rights of way through the premises may also be closed until the disease is brought under control. An approved disinfectant must be used to disinfect footwear, clothing and vehicles before entering or leaving the premises. For most exotic notifiable diseases, all susceptible animals on the premises are humanely culled.
When a notifiable disease is confirmed, a protection zone will be set up around the infected premises - and in most cases this will have a minimum radius of three kilometres. A surveillance zone will also be established, with a minimum radius of ten kilometres.
Controlled area restrictions are normally applied to restrict movement of animals outside the protection and surveillance zones. This occurs when there is - or is likely to be - a risk of spreading the disease more widely, eg if an infected animal is found to have passed through a market.
In the case of foot and mouth disease, rights of way may be closed in the protection zone. This is to control the risk of people using rights of way from coming into contact with the virus and carrying infection to other premises.
Restrictions and controls during an outbreak of an exotic notifiable animal disease
If area restrictions have been imposed on your premises, you should make only essential visits to any other livestock premises.
Strict biosecurity measures must be taken. For more information, see the guide on disease prevention.
Non-essential visits to premises with farm animals should be suspended.
You must make plans to ensure the welfare of your stock, and you should consider the likely implications of movement controls during an outbreak when preparing contingency plans for your business - eg making provision for keeping animals past their intended slaughter weight.
Further information on animal disease, notification and restrictions
There are several sources of help, information and advice in dealing with animal disease notification, restrictions and prevention.
One of Defra’s major roles is to help the farming industry operate as efficiently as possible. Defra administers European support policies that provide around £3 billion to UK agriculture. They also oversee a number of agencies that work with arable farmers, import and export of crops, and implement pest and disease controls. You can call the Defra Helpline on Tel 08459 33 55 77.
The AHVLA is an executive agency of Defra and is responsible for ensuring the welfare of farmed animals in Great Britain. It uses government policies to prevent and manage outbreaks of serious animal diseases, and safeguards public health from animal disease. You can call the AHVLA Information Line on Tel 0844 884 4600.
If you have any suspicions of disease in your farm animals you should contact your local AHVLA office.
In England, the Farm Advisory System advises farmers about cross compliance requirements under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS). For further information, call the Cross Compliance Helpline on Tel 0845 345 1302. Alternatively, find out about cross compliance requirements and access publications on the Cross Compliance website.
Various non-government organisations also provide advice, support and information on how to deal with disease in animals.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) represents the farmers and growers of England and Wales. It aims to promote successful and socially responsible agriculture and horticulture, while ensuring the long term viability of rural communities.
The National Fallen Stock Company (NFSCo) is a not-for-profit, farmer-led organisation. It provides a national service for the collection and disposal of fallen stock. You can call the NFSCo Helpline on Tel 0345 0548888. Find information on the National Fallen Stock Scheme on the NFSCo website.
To find out about measures you can take to prevent diseases, see the guide on disease prevention.
For news and guidance on all topics relevant to health and safety on farms, you can read about Health and safety management in agriculture on the HSE website.
You will also come into contact with local authorities over a number of animal welfare, farming, land use, food standards and environmental regulations. Your local authority may also be able to provide further information or resources.
08459 33 55 77