Foot and mouth disease has been found in cattle on a British farm, the government said on Friday as it banned livestock movements.
Britain's rural community is fearing a repeat of the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease, which devastated the countryside economy.
The epidemic battered the farming and tourism industries, ultimately costing Britain's economy an estimated ?8 billion (US$16.3 billion).
The grisly spectacle of piles of cattle carcasses ablaze on pyres and dark smoke filling the air became a familiar distressing sight across the country as between 6.5 million and 10 million animals were destroyed.
Infected livestock have been found on a farm near Guildford, close to London, and all cattle on the farm were being culled, the agriculture department Defra said.
Officials immediately halted movements of pigs and ruminant animals such as cows and sheep across the UK to stop the spread of the disease and set up a 10km surveillance zone around the farm.
The disease causes high fevers and blisters in cloven-hoofed animals and can often lead to death.
It can be contracted by cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, but very rarely by people.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown took part by telephone in an emergency meeting of officials on Friday evening from southern England, where he began a holiday on Friday.
He cut short his break in Dorset and wad expected to return to London yesterday to chair another meeting of the emergency committee, COBRA, a spokeswoman for his office said.
"Our top priority is to prevent the spread of this disease in order to protect farmers' stock. The plans are tested and well-established," the spokeswoman said.
Recommendations made following the 2001 outbreak were being followed "to the letter," she said.
Brown's predecessor Tony Blair came under intense criticism for his government's handling of the last outbreak, particularly for a slow response and for failing to stop the movement of animals quickly.
Officials said animals would now be disposed of by incineration to avoid a repeat of the 2001 pyres.
The National Farmers' Union said that it welcomed the swift blanket ban on the movement of livestock.
"We believe that this is the right response to this incident and it is vital that we do everything possible to stop the spread of this disease quickly," the union said in a statement.
"We would encourage all livestock keepers to be vigilant and monitor their livestock closely," it said.
The disease can be carried on the wheels of vehicles, in livestock units and on shoes and boots, officials warned.
They said it was too soon to say how the cattle had become infected.
The last outbreak of the highly contagious disease began in an abattoir in southern England, and spread to several other EU countries before it was finally eradicated, causing widespread economic damage.