Illegal imports of meat and live animals mean that the EU is still vulnerable to outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, despite efforts since 2001 to tighten up border controls.

A new report from the European Food Safety Authority in Parma, Italy, says that while F&M has been successfully eradicated from the EU, “most of the factors which affected the introduction and spread of the disease in 2001 have not changed”.

“The new emerging strain of F&M in Central Asia and China is of particular concern, as control programmes need to be adapted to combat new strains,” says the report.

“Illegal imports are also increasing and are difficult to control,” it adds.

“Incentives for profit and demand for ethnic and cultural foods, not so easily available in the EU, are continually adding pressure.

Growth in international travel from endemic areas is also increasing the number of illegal imports in passengers’ luggage crossing EU borders.”

Based on seizures at EU border posts, it estimates that somewhere between 1% and 5% of travellers introduce an average 5kg of various animal products from F&M areas.

The report notes that the 2001 outbreak, which mainly affected the UK, but also spread to Ireland, The Netherlands and France, led to the slaughter of millions of animals at a direct cost of over 12bn (8.3bn).

Egypt and Israel have become the latest countries to notify the International Office of Epizootics in Paris of outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease.

Over 7000 cases have been detected in Egypt in 15 separate locations, with vaccination used as the main control measure.

And in Israel, a consignment of calves is understood to have picked up the disease in transit from Australia.

Earlier this month Argentina reported a major outbreak of F&M near the border with Brazil, leading to a regional trade embargo by the EU.