THE toughest restrictions yet seen during the foot-and-mouth crisis are being introduced in an attempt to prevent the disease taking hold in the intensive pig farming area of North Yorkshire.

The huge new biosecurity intensification area centred on Thirsk will involve strict enforcement measures, complete with roadside checks and officials riding 'shotgun' on feed and milk tankers.

Extra cleansing and disinfection stations are being set up within the area and an outer buffer zone has been established through which animals movements are forbidden except for slaughter.

Fifteen joint teams of Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) officials, police and trading standards officers are going out on patrol to check the biosecurity of farms and vehicles in the area.

The stringent new measures - backed by the law - have been launched in an effort to sweep the area clear of foot-and-mouth and protect the giant pig breeding areas.

The Vale of York and East Yorkshire are the country's busiest areas for pig rearing, with hundreds of thousands of the creatures being farmed.

And with foot-and-mouth getting ever nearer - with 12 confirmed cases in the Thirsk area in the last three weeks - officials fear disaster could be waiting for the industry unless something is done immediately.

So far local FMD cases have been confined to cattle and sheep but the disease is up to 6,000 times more virulent when it gets into pigs.

The new restrictions apply broadly to the area bounded by Northallerton, Helmsley, Malton, York, Harrogate and Ripon.

Restricted footpaths and bridleways within the area remain closed for the time being while paths and bridleways within the new biosecurity zone that were re-opened on June 16 - the area south of the A170 and east of the A19 - have also been closed.

Defra's regional operation director Dr Stephen Hunter outlined the new measures at a press conference at the Central Science Laboratories near York yesterday.

They include:

l A general ban on all movements of animals on and off farms except those under licence for slaughter.

l The cleansing and disinfection of all vehicles, including private cars, on leaving and entering farms.

l The licensing of movements of feed and milk on and off farms with all tankers accompanied by a Defra official.

l Clothing and boots worn while handling livestock must be left on farms.

l Footbaths to be maintained at every exit to all farms, with the disinfectant renewed frequently.