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LORRY-LOADS of livestock were turned away from a Pendle abattoir and staff told they must stay on the premises on Wednesday, sparking fears of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Some staff at the Woodhead Bros Meat Factory in Colne were told not to leave the building at the end of their shifts, and trucks full of sheep were refused entry to the site and lined up along nearby Junction Street.

Morrisons' health and safety department at the firm's head office said concerns were raised when blisters were spotted on the legs of a pig on Wednesday afternoon - a common symptom of foot and mouth disease.

A small number of other animals were discovered to have similar blisters on closer inspection

A spokesman for Morrisons, which owns the plant, said: "There is nothing to worry about.There are precautionary procedures in place for such incidents.We had vets from Defra on site, and they were able to give the animals the all clear."

We take food safety very seriously at Morrisons, and this incident clearly shows we leave nothing to chance."

He said the blisters could have been caused by a fall or a reaction to certain types of food.

The alarm came four years after the last epidemic of foot and mouth swept the country.

One local farmer said: "There is no room for complacency, and companies like Woodheads are right to take every precaution.

Foot and mouth is a real worry. I'm sure nobody has forgotten the last outbreak. It would be a tragedy for Pendle if it happened again."

18 March 2005