The NFU today called for an urgent tightening of the controls protecting Britain and Europe from illegal meat imports after suggestions that this is the most likely cause of the foot and mouth outbreak.

NFU President Ben Gill said farmers would be "livid" at the suggestion that illegal commercial imports carrying the virus may be to blame for bringing the entire farming industry to its knees in the space of just a few weeks.

He said checks on both travellers bringing in meat for personal consumption and commercial food imports where meat can be hidden in consignments of other goods must be stepped up at ports, airports and other borders.

The use of sniffer dogs, employed in foot and mouth-free countries like New Zealand, and clear signs warning travellers of the dangers of bringing in foodstuffs, should be looked at.

He said: "British farmers have worked their guts out during these desperate times to ensure their production standards are amongst the highest anywhere in the world. The suggestion that illegal commercial imports, not produced to these standards, have caused this disaster leaves us fuming with rage.

"It is quite unbelievable that a consignment of meat which should never have got into this country could have could have paralysed British farming in this way in just a matter of weeks."

Mr Gill said that it was right that all the avenues to stop a foot and mouth outbreak happening again were explored - including looking at the use of pig swill and the movement of sheep, cattle and goats.

He said: "There is no doubt that the number of repeated movements of the same sheep at the beginning of this outbreak has been a factor in the spread of the disease. We agree the issues need to be looked at and will be consulting with our members.

"Careful consideration needs to be given to the proposals for a ban on pig swill and we are happy to play a full part in this. But it must be pointed out that the feeding of swill has taken place for centuries.

"We need to look first and foremost at the checks in place to stop illegal foreign meat imports. This must never be allowed to happen again."

On vaccination, he said: "We see no grounds for vaccination to replace the slaughter policy. However, limited vaccination might be necessary if we cannot reduce the gap between reporting and slaughter.

"We therefore fully support the Government's decision to ask permission from the Standing Veterinary Committee so it can use limited vaccination immediately if necessary."

Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in this document, the NFU cannot accept liability for errors and omissions.  This information should not be regarded as constituting legal advice, and should therefore not be relied upon as such.  NFU©