THE results of a government review into the cost of secondary cleaning on farms infected with foot-and-mouth could be announced this week.

The cleaning and disinfecting, the last step before a farmer can re-stock, was halted last Monday amid government concerns at the spiralling cost.

Food Chain Minister Lord Whitty said last week that a review of payments to contractors would last a fortnight.

On Wednesday, Animal Health Minister Mr Elliot Morley told the D&S Times that the department hoped to announce reforms to the system "within days".

The minister was visiting North Yorkshire on a whistle-stop tour of the Vale of York foot-and-mouth hotspot.

He had planned to take a large media party on to a farm to see blood testing as part of a new programme to test up to 50,000 sheep in the area. Defra contacted several farmers to arrange the visit, but they all refused because they feared it would compromise biosecurity.

A visit to the Zenith milk depot on the Dalton Airfield industrial estate, near Thirsk, did go ahead and Mr Morley took the opportunity to hammer home the government's commitment to stamping out foot-and-mouth in the Vale of York.

Thirsk has been placed at the heart of a biosecurity intensification area in a bid to prevent the virus attacking the county's vulnerable pig producers.

The main zone covers a 900 square mile area bordered by Northallerton, Malton, York, Harrogate, Ripon and Masham and covers 1,200 farms.

New measures announced on Monday will see Defra officials aboard all milk tankers and many other vehicles which have contact with farms, such as feed wagons.

These tanker inspectors will be backed up by 15 roaming foot patrols made up of police, trading standards officers and Defra officials, in a bid to ensure all vehicles coming on or off farms are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Anyone failing a roadside check will have to go straight to one of six cleansing stations at Thirsk, Malton, York, Northallerton, Ripon or Easingwold. Repeat offenders could be fined up to £5,000.

This central area is surrounded by a buffer zone taking in large tracts of North Yorkshire, where the movement of livestock in or out of the area without a licence to slaughter has been banned.

"This is absorbing a lot of our resources," said Mr Morley. "We have diverted a lot of our blood testing teams and a lot of our staff. It is a very resource-intensive campaign.

"The principle reason for the spread of the disease now is farm-to-farm contact and despite the publicity I am sorry to say we are still finding examples of bad practice."

He said that a public inquiry into foot-and-mouth was unlikely as the government was keen to avoid a repeat of the drawn out investigation into the previous government's handling of the BSE crisis.

"There will be an independent inquiry and I think that will recognise the remarkable achievements of our staff in bringing it under control," he said.

"Of course, there are lessons to be learned; this has been the world's worst outbreak."

l Epsyke Farm near Hutton Mulgrave, Whitby, went down with foot-and-mouth at the beginning of the week, with 248 cattle and 161 ewes plus lambs culled.

Three more outbreaks were identified on Wednesday night. Barnby Sleights Farm, Hutton Mulgrave, succumbed with 600 sheep slaughtered, along with 26 cattle belonging to Ewe Farm which were on a field at Cranee Farm, Ugthorpe, near Whitby.

The disease was found at Monk Park Farm, Balk, near Thirsk, with 31 cattle and ten rams culled. Animals at Sunny Bank Farm, Sutton Road, Thirsk, were also slaughtered on suspicion of having the disease.