The UK pig industry is under threat from a disease that could be as damaging to the economy as foot and mouth, bringing the UK herd to its knees.

Highly Pathogenic Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (HP-PRRS) was "the number one pig disease on the planet", according to British Veterinary Association spokesman Dr Steven McOrist.

Cases of HP-PRRS have already been reported in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines, Russia and China. To date, no cases have been reported in Europe, but experts claim the disease could find its way into the UK via illegal imports of exotic meat products.

"There is a risk of introducing HP-PRRS through illegal imports of pig products, including meat from Asia," claimed Defra, adding that current vaccines were not fully effective. Another route in is through the transport of live piglets to the UK from Europe. "We don't know what they'll be carrying," said McOrist.

If HP-PRRS reached the UK, it would devastate the UK industry, which is only just beginning to recover from years of disease and poor prices.

When infected, pigs suffer prolonged high fever, anorexia, discoloration of the body, blue ears and diarrhoea.

It posed as great a risk to the British pig industry as foot and mouth had posed to the beef industry, said Stephen Curtis, chairman of pig breeding company ACMC. "It could virtually destroy the UK industry."

To prevent the spread of the disease via live pigs, the industry was reliant on UK border controls, said McOrist. However, in the past they had proven ineffective against the global spread of other devastating animal diseases, he added. "The last two outbreaks of livestock disease in this country foot and mouth, and classical swine flu were both probably due to border control lapses." Measures in place to prevent the import of illegal meat were similarly lax, with just a few trained search dogs at major UK airports, added Curtis.

Curtis is calling on the UK pig industry to draw up its own code of practice, which would discourage processors from offering contracts to, or purchasing pigs from, producers who import animals or semen into their herds.

Meanwhile the industry is facing another threat in the form of African Swine Fever. Cases of ASF have been reported less than 200km from Finland and Estonia, according to the UNFAO.

"There is a risk the disease will spread further to Eastern Europe or other areas where swine are raised, either through the uncontrolled introduction of infected pork meat or through the movement of infected wild boar," it said.