The first outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK for 20 years could prove disastrous for British livestock farmers - at a time when they already have too many problems to deal with, says the NFU.

NFU President Ben Gill said the industry would now focus on stopping the disease - identified in a group of pigs at an abattoir in Essex - dead in its tracks.

But he stressed that there are no human health implications from the disease, a view reiterated by the Food Standards Agency.

He said: "This outbreak has potentially catastrophic implications for the whole of the British livestock industry.

"The priority now is to contain it and we fully support all the measures which have been speedily put in place by MAFF.

"While these measures will be devastating to the farms involved it is in the interests of the whole UK livestock industry that this disease is stopped dead in its tracks.

"Any farmer who has any suspicions whatsoever that their livestock may be affected must immediately contact their vet or animal health office."

Foot and mouth can spread to all cloven-footed animals, including cattle, sheep and goats, as well as pigs. Five-mile restriction zones have been put in place around the Essex abattoir and two farms involved, in Buckinghamshire and the Isle of Wight.

Mr Gill added: "British farmers have had more than enough to deal with in the last few years without this latest blow.

"However, there are tried and tested procedures in place to tackle diseases like foot and mouth and we will ensure that these are followed and that the disease is eradicated.

"In the last outbreak in 1981, we brought it under control extremely quickly. Our aim now is to ensure this happens again."