Translation initiation dependent on the foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) internal ribosome entry site (IRES) occurs at two sites (Lab and Lb), 84 nucleotides (nt) apart. In vitro translation of an mRNA comprising the IRES and Lab-Lb intervening segment fused to a chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) reporter has been used to study the parameters influencing the ratio of the two products and the combined product yield as measures of relative initiation site usage and productive ribosome recruitment, respectively. With wild-type mRNA, ∼40% of initiation occurred at the Lab site, which was increased to 90% by optimization of its context, but decreased to 20% by mutations that reduced downstream secondary structure, with no change in recruitment in either case. Inserting 5 nt into the pyrimidine-rich tract located just upstream of the Lab site increased initiation at this site by 75% and ribosome recruitment by 50%. Mutating the Lab site to RCG or RUN codons decreased recruitment by 20 to 30% but stimulated Lb initiation by 20 to 40%. An antisense oligodeoxynucleotide annealing across the Lab site inhibited initiation at both sites. These and related results lead to the following conclusions. Recruitment by the wild-type IRES is limited by its short oligopyrimidine tract. At least 90% of internal ribosome entry occurs at the Lab AUG, but initiation at this site is restricted by its poor context, despite a counteracting effect of downstream secondary structure. Initiation at the Lb site is by ribosomes that access it by linear scanning from the original entry site, and not by an independent entry process.