A GOVERNMENT animal health investigation centre has moved to reassure consumers after an E.coli outbreak was confirmed at two pig farms.

Staff at the Thirsk Investigation Centre, in Station Road, said there was no risk to human health after diagnosing the disease which is often fatal for pigs. It issued an alert to farmers and vets after conducting post-mortem examinations on fiveweek- old pigs, which had died suddenly while being kept in two straw yards, each containing 400 to 500 pigs.

Some of the pigs, which are understood to have been from farms in the region, were also described as unwell, "staggering about" as if having meningitis and with "puffy eyes".

The pigs were voluntarily submitted from farms where previous batches of weaners had developed suspected Mulberry heart disease two to three weeks after weaning.

In this batch, deaths occurred earlier than had been seen previously.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency said it had initially suspected a bacterial septicaemia was involved, but the final diagnosis reached was E.coli oedema disease.

An agency spokesman said confidentiality rules prevented it from identifying the area where the outbreak had occurred.

The Thirsk centre's catchment area includes much of Yorkshire and part of the North-East. He said there had been fewer cases of E.coli oedema in recent years. It occurs more frequently in countries that practice intensive swine production.

He added: “There are no human health implications relating to this case.

We diagnose approximately 34 to 64 cases of E.coli in pigs each year, but as it's non-notifiable, which means there is no legal requirement for farmers to report this disease to Government veterinary authorities, there will be more cases that are not recorded or that are diagnosed via private labs."