One Million Egg-Laying Hens to Be Euthanised in Bid to Control Bird Flu

The minister says Australians should not be concerned with the possibility of egg shortages.
One Million Egg-Laying Hens to Be Euthanised in Bid to Control Bird Flu
Eggs in a carton are seen at a supermarket in Albany, Western Australia, on June 10, 2024. (Susan Mortimer/The Epoch Times)
Monica O’Shea

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has rushed to reassure the public that the government has control of the bird flu situation.

Mr. Watt noted that of the 21 million egg-laying hens in the country, 1 million of those have, or are in the process of being euthanised—about 4 percent of the overall flock.

“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 said.

“We do need to act quickly and carefully, but people can be confident that we’ve got this in hand.”

The comment came after the highly pathogenic strain of Avian influenza, H7N3, was detected at five poultry farms in the state of Victoria.

In response, major supermarket giant Coles introduced a temporary limit of two egg cartons per customer, citing a shortage of egg supply.

In an email provided to The Epoch Times, a Coles spokesperson said the supermarket was working closely with all of their suppliers to ensure eggs remain available for customers while providing support to the industry at the same time.

But Mr. Watt argued that with over 18 million eggs being produced in the country every day, the risk of a shortage was low.

Customers could also shop around if they need to buy more eggs because not all retailers have introduced limits, the agriculture minister noted.

“I know there was a little bit of alarm yesterday prompted by Coles making a preemptive decision to limit egg sales to two cartons per customer,” Mr. Watt said in an interview with ABC TV on June 11. 

“Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever bought more than one dozen eggs at one time, but I know there may be people that need to get larger stocks, and those stocks are available.”

The agriculture minister said the Victorian government had done a “fantastic job” getting on the front foot early to limit bird flu’s spread.

“And that’s why, frankly, we haven’t seen more properties infected than we already have,” he added.

“Certainly, the Victorian government believes, and we believe as well, that this is something that can be eradicated, provided we put in a lot of effort at a very early stage, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”

Agriculture Victoria has also reassured Victorians that egg and poultry products from supermarkets do not pose a risk and are safe to consume.

The Bird Flu Situation

On June 7, Agriculture Victoria advised that a fifth Victorian poultry farm had been placed in “quarantine” after bird flu was confirmed.

Tests identified the high pathogenicity H7N3 strain at this property in the Golden Plains Shire of Victoria, where “movement restrictions” were already in place.

A fourth case of the highly pathogenic bird flu H7N3 strain was announced on June 5, also in the Golden Plains Shire.

H7N3 has also been identified at two other farms, while another strain of influenza H7N9 was identified in May.

A human case of avian influenza H5N1 was detected in Victoria on May 22, the first Australian case in a child who had just returned from India.

Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Graeme Cooke, advised bird owners across Victoria to follow best biosecurity practices such as keeping poultry sheds, yards, aviaries and equipment clean, as well as minimise direct contact between poultry and wild birds.

“It’s a difficult time for our farmers and we’re making sure mental health support is available and eligible producers can access compensation,” he said.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, outbreaks of the highly pathogenic Avian influenza (HPAI), including the H7N3 outbreak, are a “significant threat to poultry production not to be underestimated.”

“In countries that have significant commercial poultry industries, with high numbers of animals living in high-density populations, HPAI outbreaks can cause rapid and severe economic losses to agro-industry and trade,” the organization said in a 2012 paper (pdf).

“Immediate impacts of a disease outbreak include the cost of policy measures and eradication programs, a reduction in the productive capacity, and a subsequent reduction in the supply of meat and egg products.”

Monica O’Shea is a reporter based in Australia. She previously worked as a reporter for Motley Fool Australia, Daily Mail Australia, and Fairfax Regional Media.
Related Topics