UK farming leaders are due to meet agriculture minister Nick Brown today to discuss measures to contain the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

The European Commission and the US last night temporarily banned all exports of British livestock, meat and dairy products. It is expected that other countries will follow this action until the source of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease is traced and the disease is eliminated.

A race against time has begun to contain the disease and a ten-mile exclusion zone has been placed around the Essex abattoir where the highly infectious disease was first detected. Five-mile animal movement exclusion areas have ringed five farms around the country, in an effort to restrict the disease to the abattoir.

Brown said the government is taking 'tough action' to tackle the outbreak quickly and is prepared to compensate farmers for any animals destroyed.

Measures being adopted by the government include quarantine and inspecting every farm that sent animals to the affected abattoir. They have also instructed all farmers with livestock to check their animals for signs of the virus, following the discovery of 27 infected pigs at Cheale Meats near Brentwood in Essex on Wednesday. Four other farms are under quarantine restrictions, including two that sent the infected animals to the abattoir, in Great Horwood, Buckinghamshire and Freshwater Bay, on the Isle of Wight.

The National Farmers' Union warned people today to stay away from areas of the countryside where livestock are grazing to prevent a potential 'disaster.' Foot-and-mouth disease can be passed through the air onto other livestock and can be transmitted to humans but this is a rare occurrence. The Food Standards Agency said the disease posed no threat to food safety, as it cannot be caught by humans eating meat or drinking pasteurised milk.

Foot-and-mouth is a highly infectious viral disease that affects cattle, pigs, sheep and goats causing blisters in the mouth, leading to increased salivation and lameness. Animals cease gaining weight and dairy cattle production falls and death in some cases.