Foot and mouth disease has been discovered in 28 pigs after a routine inspection at a UK abattoir. Around three hundred animals in the abattoir and farm will be slaughtered immediately, and Britain’s farmers have been warned that they may face a ban on live animal exports.

This is the first reported case of the highly infectious virus in Britain since the outbreak in 1981, and it is expected that the countries that import animals from Britain will be taking strong measures to ensure it is contained. Characterised by blisters in the mouth and lameness, foot and mouth can affect cattle, goats and sheep, as well as pigs, and has been detected in humans. Last year, an outbreak in Greece prompted strict quarantine measures.

Vets from the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland are meeting today to discuss the cases and determine measures to prevent the disease crossing the Irish Sea.

Chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore revealed that the abattoir and the farm, both of which are situated south of Brentwood in Essex, are currently within a five-mile exclusion zone, but this could well be extended. Exclusion zones were also placed around the two farms that raised the pigs, at Freshwater Bay in the Isle of Wight and Great Horwood in Buckinghamshire. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) stressed that there are no signs of an outbreak in these areas; a spokeswoman added however,”We need the assistance of the farming community to check their stock and report any potential symptoms, because this does spread very rapidly.”

The news is particularly bad for British farmers, who witnessed the slaughter of 12,000 pigs following an outbreak of swine disease in Norfolk last August. At this time the EU introduced a temporary ban to prevent live pigs and pig semen being exported from Britain.