Victorian Farming Federation warns egg prices will increase amid shortage from avian flu outbreak

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Remy Varga
The Nightly
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The Victorian Farming Federation warned the outbreak of the highly infectious bird respiratory disease would hit shoppers in the coming weeks after 800,000, or an estimated four per cent of the national stock, have been euthanised in a bid to contain the outbreak.
The Victorian Farming Federation warned the outbreak of the highly infectious bird respiratory disease would hit shoppers in the coming weeks after 800,000, or an estimated four per cent of the national stock, have been euthanised in a bid to contain the outbreak. Credit: William Pearce

A major egg producer has warned of increasing egg prices in Victoria amid a shortage in the state after the company lost a third of its production capacity in the avian flu outbreak.

The Victorian Farming Federation warned the outbreak of the highly infectious bird respiratory disease would hit shoppers in the coming weeks after 800,000, or an estimated four per cent of the national stock, have been euthanised in a bid to contain the outbreak.

The State Government is enforcing quarantine zones in regions in Terang, near Warrnambool, and Meredith and Lethbridge, west of Melbourne.

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Coles has introduced purchase limits with a number of its suppliers located in quarantine zones. Woolworths is unlikely to follow suit as only one of the supermarket’s suppliers has been impacted by the outbreak.

Farm Pride said additional testing had detected avian influenza amongst 240,000 laying hens at a property in the Lethbridge area, with the company’s overall production capacity now reduced by 36 per cent.

Managing director Darren Lurie said Victoria would likely experience a significant shortage of eggs leading to increased prices.

“During this period of reduced egg production we will be managing operations to limit the impact on our customers and consumers,” he said.

Agriculture Victoria has detected the H7N3 strain of avian influenza at four poultry farms near Meredith and the H7N9 strain at a property near Terang. The poultry at all five farms will be euthanised as state government officials decontaminate the properties.

Birds within the quarantine zones must be kept inside at all times and owners are required to apply for permits to remove poultry, equipment and eggs inside and outside of the restricted areas.

An Agriculture Victoria spokesperson said movement controls were used to reduce the risk of avian flu spreading by restricting the movement of infected birds and materials.

“Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral infection of domestic poultry which occasionally spills over into that sector from wild birds which carry it without any signs, causing large losses amongst domestic poultry,” said the spokesperson.

Chickens (stock)
Authorities are investigating an outbreak of bird flu at a Victorian egg farm. Credit: Cathy Parker/AAP

Victorian Farmers Federation Vice-President and egg farmer, Danyel Cucinotta said the priority was the containment and rapid identification of avian flu in birds, including backyard chickens.

“We’re anticipating a flow-on impact to egg supplies in the coming week and are working as hard as possible to maintain availability,” he said.

“My advice is to shop around at your local grocer, market or small independent store to buy your eggs.

“Victorian egg farmers are working hard to contain the risk of any further biosecurity outbreak and maintain a supply of fresh and affordable eggs.”

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said it was possible the outbreak could spread beyond the five quarantined farms but said the Victorian government had quickly to curtail the risk of spread and the flu could likely be eliminated.

“Unfortunately for the hens involved in this, they do need to be euthanised as a way of making sure that the virus doesn’t spread more rapidly,” he told the ABC.

“Essentially, avian flu is a form of respiratory disease, and if there is any contact between infected hens and non-infected hens, that’s when you do face the risk of spread happening.

“So making sure that we essentially lockdown the properties that are infected, euthanise the hens involved. That’s our best way of making sure that this doesn’t spread more widely.”

Mr Watt said he remained confident that the national egg supply for the most part remained secure with about 22 million egg-laying hens around the country.

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