Neil Shand, chairman of the National Beef Association, said the amount of cattle lost in the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis amounted to the size of England’s current suckler herd.
About 758,000 cattle were slaughtered for disease control and welfare reasons by the end of the crisis, according to Defra statistics.
Mr Shand said: “I remember driving on the M6 between Scotland and England and being surrounded by the horrific sight of black smoke and the smell of burning flesh.
“The biggest impact was felt across the north, where Limousin and Limousin crosses were fairly dominant.
“There was a lot of hardship and an awful lot of grief, with the culls seeing genetics lost for a lifetime.
“As a result, quite a few pedigree breeders built up supplies of semen and embryos.
“The industry is incredibly resilient and the majority of farmers kicked on and have gone from strength to strength.
“But for cattle breeders, the memories are still there and will never go.”
Foot-and-mouth also impacted the dairy sector as generations of breeding and in some cases, entire cow families, were lost.
A Holstein UK spokesperson branded it the ’biggest crisis to hit modern-day dairy farming’.
The spokesperson said: “On-farm services such as milk recording and classification ceased almost immediately and field staff were not able to return until June and in some areas September of that year.
“Some farmers continued milk recording themselves with supplies being distributed to them directly and left at farm gates.
“Some field staff were redeployed to accompany the milk tankers helping to spray the tankers in and out of farms.”
They added although compensation was available to allow herds to restock, it could never replace the generations of selective breeding and genetics farmers had worked hard to achieve.
NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes was a newly elected vice county chairman at the time, and remembered the emotional stress for farmers.
He said: “It was the fear of the unknown and you were paranoid you would find blisters on calves’ tongues one morning.
“The controversial culling strategy meant farmers could face their livelihoods disappearing down the drain, losing a lifetime of work.
“I remember attending Defra meetings to learn how foot-and-mouth was spreading, then answering calls from farmers whose beef stock had been shot and started to blow up so they were unable to get them out of the buildings.
“Processors were also fearful as they were losing herds on a daily basis and the milk supply was tighter, with everyone working under increasing protocols to stop foot-and-mouth from spreading.
“It left psychological scars for a lot of farmers."