Sir Brian Follett FRS will chair the inquiry, the membership of which will include veterinary scientists, virologists and epidemiologists, together with representatives of farming and consumer groups.
The inquiry will identify lessons to be learnt from recent outbreaks of infectious disease, such as foot and mouth and swine fever, and will help Great Britain to be better prepared for future occurrences. The committee will also consider issues relating to the provision and use of scientific advice.
Sir Brian said: "These infectious diseases can cause epidemics that result in tremendous distress and suffering for both animals and people. It is clear that the UK is not completely protected from diseases that occur in other countries, and we have to find ways to minimise the chances of an epidemic gripping us again with its associated severe economic consequences."
He added: "The inquiry will identify the diseases that pose the greatest threat to the UK, as well as the best ways of protecting ourselves in the future and dealing with outbreaks if they do occur, including the role of vaccination. This will be an independent inquiry examining the science. We intend to consult widely and openly to ensure that we address the main issues."
The terms of reference for the inquiry are attached while the membership of the committee will be announced shortly. The inquiry will report its findings in summer 2002.
Lord May, President of the Royal Society, said: "The foot and mouth outbreak has made plain the need for a definitive statement on the current scientific understanding of the disease and its control. This inquiry aims to report on the current science relevant to the future prevention and control of this and other important infectious livestock diseases."