As at October 2022, around 48m birds have been culled across the UK and the EU in the last year as a result of the largest outbreak of avian flu on record. This excludes numbers in the wild bird populations. Avian flu is on the move with migratory birds and the risk is now unprecedented.
With Australia moving towards a no -cage egg policy, phasing out by 2032 - 2036 there is a transition time of 10 years, which has Australia lagging behind by a decade (outlawed in EU in 2012).
Of interest, New South Wales is the largest producer of caged hen eggs, however free range is the most popular retail egg selection in Australian supermarkets, with 47% of egg production now free range, meaning hens are housed in a shed with access to an outdoor area during daylight hours. These systems can hold up to 30,000 birds, or have smaller flocks with movable mobile sheds that can have access to different areas. Whilst household consumers are consciously buying a more humane- free range option, the commercial sector with most restaurants and commercial kitchens looking for the most cost effective to suit their bottom line, with cage eggs preferred.
Interestingly free range have the highest scorecard of mortality and disease, as seen below there are trade offs in each system.
see ranking information below via DPI NSW
Why are we worried about Avian flu?
With more hens ranging outside, there are increased risks for cross contamination from wild birds around water sources.
Based on information from Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) global circulation of HPAI viruses is posing unprecedented risks for vulnerable wildlife species.
Based on the UK outbreak there is definite concern.
HPAI viruses pose considerable risk for poultry industries, whilst in previous years has been considered low risk.
Considering the popularity of free range eggs this element could wipe 52% of eggs off our shelves.
How Does Avian Flu Spread?
It is spread between infected birds via close contact, the movement of infected live birds and virus-contaminated poultry products, feed, equipment and materials. The virus can survive long periods in faeces and water and on feathers, eggs or in meat.
In Australia, AI could spread to domestic birds through contamination of feed and water by wild bird droppings or secretions. Infected migratory shore and wading birds could transmit AI to Australian nomadic water birds, which could mingle with and spread the virus to domestic birds.
How can we prevent Avian flu from spreading?
Protecting food and water sources from wild birds, reducing wild bird faeces is essential.
Avoiding opportunities for wild birds to access the same water source for hens and crops
Covering feed in sealed containers
Use of AVIX laser deterrent across dams and water storage, the use of lasers has a proven 99.7%reduction in wild birds habituating and foraging around poultry farms, See the study here.