Egg farmers near avian influenza outbreak scramble into action after week-long lockdown lifted (2024)

As supermarkets across the nation began rationing eggs, the storage room at Wes Humpage's western Victorian farm was reaching capacity.

Mr Humpage runs a free-range egg farm in the tiny town of Maude, around half an hour north-west of Geelong.

A further 15 minutes up the road is Meredith, where four egg farms are confirmed to have the high pathogenicity H7N3 strain of avian influenza.

The avian outbreak in Victoria put the clamps on Mr Humpage's family-owned operation last week, although there had been no trace of the virus among the pasture-raised birds on his property.

"The order that we received last Tuesday night really threw everyone into a bit of a scramble, you know," Mr Humpage told ABC Victorian Mornings.

That order was to hold all eggs on his farm for at least 28 days from the first recorded case of avian influenza (AI) in May.

At the same time, Coles supermarkets across Australia, with the exception of WA, had put a limit on the number of eggs that shoppers could take home.

"It was a real shock when we know that we don't have AI on our farm," Mr Humpage said.

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That order was reversed on Tuesday morning.

Mr Humpage and his wife Amanda hopped straight in their sanitised delivery van to deliver their eggs.

"We were approved to deliver all eggs that were produced before the eighth of June, so that's going to clear out a big chunk of the backlog," he said.

"But yeah, we've really had a week of uncertainty."

Can't rule out the spread

That sense of uncertainty continues to pervade the egg industry nationally.

Victoria is the third-largest egg-producing state in Australia, and the Victorian Farmers Federation said about one in 16 egg-laying chickens had been destroyed, reducing the state's supply by about 450,000 eggs a day.

There are five confirmed outbreaks across the south-west of Victoria, impacting around 800,000 birds.

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said while the state and federal governments were doing everything possible to contain the outbreak, the industry wasn't out of the woods just yet.

"I can't rule out that it'd be spreading further, but obviously, every effort is being put in by the Victorian government, backed by ourselves," Senator Watt said.

"The quicker and earlier we can get on top of this the better."

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Senator Watts said the outbreak could have affected more farms, but for the quick response from officials.

Horrific weeks

The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) remains concerned about not only the financial but also the emotional impact on egg producers.

Egg farmers near avian influenza outbreak scramble into action after week-long lockdown lifted (3)

VFF vice-president, Danyel Cucinotta, told ABC RN that farmers were doing it tough.

"Nothing shocks us at the moment because, unfortunately, it's just completely out of farmers' control," Ms Cucinotta said.

Ms Cucinotta said farmers were enduring a "horrific couple of weeks" and that the outbreak was going to cost the industry millions.

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"Unfortunately this is going to be an ongoing threat for not only eggs but the chicken meat industry in Australia," she said.

She said she wouldn't be surprised to see supermarket chains Woolworths and Aldi follow suit and implement egg restrictions.

"This is what happens if the farms that are affected end up as a supplier of a major supermarket," she said.

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"My advice, or my suggestion, would always be eggs are available. It's just probably not in the places that you know and love."

Ms Cucinotta's NSW counterpart, Xavier Martin, was less concerned.

Mr Martin, president of the NSW branch of the Farmers Federation, said less than 2 per cent of Australia's hens have been impacted and that there's no need for panic.

"There's no need for any concerns, avian influenza is not new — it's been in New South Wales about a decade ago," he said.

He said the buying restrictions had more to do with the supermarkets than farmers.

"It says more about their procurement policy," he told ABC Radio.

Victoria earlier this year recorded a human case of bird flu, when a child returning to Australia from overseas became unwell and tested positive for the H5N1 strain.

The case was not related to the outbreak on the poultry farms, and the Victorian Department of Health has reassured the community that the chance of avian influenza spreading among humans in Australia is low.

Authorities say chicken meat and eggs are safe to consume, and there is no risk to the public.

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Egg farmers near avian influenza outbreak scramble into action after week-long lockdown lifted (2024)
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