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Millions of eggs to be released from bird flu quarantine zones in Victoria

REMY VARGA
The Nightly
Permits can be granted to farms to move eggs from the restricted and contained areas that have tested negative for avian influenza pending an assessment of risk and other factors including hygiene. 
Permits can be granted to farms to move eggs from the restricted and contained areas that have tested negative for avian influenza pending an assessment of risk and other factors including hygiene.  Credit: William Pearce

The Victorian Government has given the green light for potentially millions of eggs inside the avian flu quarantine zones in the state’s southwest to be relocated - but it is unclear whether the recovered eggs will be sold to consumers.

Coles, Woolworths and US bulk purchase chain CostCo declined to comment on Thursday after Agriculture Victoria confirmed it had issued a number of permits to farms inside restricted and control areas in Meredith and Lethbridge, west of Melbourne, and Terang, near Warrnambool.

Permits can be granted to farms to move eggs from the restricted and contained areas that have tested negative for avian influenza pending an assessment of risk and other factors including hygiene.

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Poultry veterinarian Peter Scott said there were probably millions of eggs in the impacted areas that had been stockpiled by farms that were safe to eat if correct safety protocols were followed.

“If not graded and washed and sanitised on the farm, the eggs (as most are) are securely moved to a grading floor for washing and sanitation,” he said.

“This process of washing and sanitation of each individual egg are well-established procedures, and the normally accredited facilities are audited in real-time within the egg company and also externally by groups like Egg Standards Australia.”

At least 800,000 laying hens across five farms have been euthanised in a bid to curtail the spread of bird flu as the state grapples with the worst outbreak ever seen in Australia. Eggs from farms where avian influenza has been detected are destroyed and about 450,000 have been removed from the state’s daily supply.

Coles has introduced purchase limits restricting shoppers to buying two cartons of eggs at a time with a number of the supermarket’s suppliers in the quarantine zones.

Woolworths has yet to introduce purchase limits while bulk purchase chain Costco declined to comment.

Agriculture Victoria said the number of eggs that have and will be moved from controlled and restricted areas was a matter for businesses that had permits approved by the state government agency and a spokesperson said it is unclear how many eggs have been released.

“Agriculture Victoria continues to work with affected producers and the wider industry to support business continuity while minimising the risk of disease spread,” said a spokesperson.

One egg farm has been forced into quarantine due to the detection of bird flu.
One egg farm has been forced into quarantine due to the detection of bird flu. Credit: istock

Earlier this week Farm Pride said the outbreak had wiped out more than a third of its production capacity after additional testing had detected avian influenza amongst 240,000 laying hens.

“All three Farm Pride sites in the Lethbridge area are closed and no eggs from these sites will be released to the market,” said a spokesperson.

Eggs that have been washed and handled correctly are considered safe and there is no risk of contracting avian flu from cooked eggs or cooked chicken.

However, it is possible for a person to contract highly infectious strains of avian influenza, a respiratory illness, by coming into contact with infected animals.

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.

Avian influenza is believed to be spread by asymptomatic wild birds and can spread quickly amongst birds in confined spaces. Egg farmers and people with backyard chickens within the quarantine zones are required to keep them inside to reduce the risk of transmission.

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