The EU has ordered a clampdown on animal movements in Europe to prevent the highly contagious disease spreading to the continent.

The EU’s veterinary panel banned all livestock markets and cross border movements in EU countries late yesterday, while also extending a ban on the export of meat, livestock and milk products from the UK.

Seven new cases of foot-and-mouth disease had been confirmed in the UK by Wednesday morning bringing the toll of cases to 81. Government vets have indicated that the outbreak should peak within the next few days before starting to decline. MAFF officials say 40,000 animals have now been slaughtered, but expect the final total to be around 80,000.

Responding to criticism from some quarters that the current policy of slaughtering thousands of farm animals had been unnecessary, the UK’s chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore said that ‘foot-and-mouth was not like flu’. He said the disease caused long-term problems in dairy cattle and is serious welfare problem for animals as the disease is extremely painful.

Scudamore said it would be at least 30 days without any new recorded cases before Britain could safely say it was free of the virus.

Fresh supplies of British meat are beginning to reach shops as farmers use provisions to move livestock to abattoirs unaffected by foot and mouth disease. The government may extend its licensing scheme to allow small-scale farms to send livestock to holding centres. Until now the restrictions mostly involved the movement of larger consignments to around 200 approved slaughterhouses. Only cattle and sheep have been allowed to move to slaughterhouses so far.