An Irish farm leader has described as "incredible" the EU decision to sanction UK exports of fresh beef and sheepmeat from last weekend, when the lifting of an earlier ban had to be reversed within days.

Malcolm Thompson, president of the 10,000-strong Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association, accused the EU of "playing with fire" through an over-hasty decision that risked spreading FMD across Europe.

Similar concern has been expressed by the Irish Farmers' Association and both bodies have raised the issue with the Department of Agriculture.

An ICSA spokeswoman said that British meat exports to Northern Ireland, in current circumstances, were of particular concern to farmers in the Republic.

"In the window between the lifting of the last ban and its reimposition, there were some 70 consignments into the North, which is a cause for worry. We feel this is a matter that needs to be treated with the utmost caution."