Five European reference laboratories participated in an exercise to evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of their routinely employed RT-PCR tests and cell cultures for the detection and isolation of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus. Five identical sets of 20 coded samples were prepared from 10 vesicular epithelia, which were derived from submissions from suspect cases of FMD or swine vesicular disease (SVD). Sixteen samples were derived from six FMD virus positive epithelia representing four different serotypes (two each of types O and A and one each of types Asia 1 and SAT 2), two from samples which had been found to be negative by antigen ELISA and virus isolation (VI) in cell culture and two from SVD virus positive epithelia. Some of the FMD virus positive samples were prepared from 10-fold serial dilutions of three of the initial suspensions. Each laboratory tested the samples by one or more of its available RT-PCR procedures and inoculated cell cultures that it routinely uses for FMD diagnosis in attempts to isolate virus, the specificity of which was confirmed by antigen ELISA. The best of the RT-PCR assays used in each laboratory gave comparable results while the sensitivity of cell cultures was variable from high in one laboratory, moderate in two and low in two others. This prototype panel of samples would appear suitable for external quality assurance of these tests but would benefit from the inclusion of more negative samples and an extension in the serial dilution range of one or more of the FMD positive sample titration series.