Thursday, December 05, 2013

Biosecurity problems led to avian influenza outbreaks

Investigations into the avian influenza outbreaks near Young in New South Wales appear to confirm that the biosecurity practices on the two farms were not up to scratch – even though they were said to be 'state of the art' facilities.

It seemed odd that the initial outbreak was able to spread so quickly to cage hens on a farm which also had birds with 'access' to the outdoors – and then to a separate cage farm.

The likely cause has now been revealed by the Department of Primary Industries in NSW.

'The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H7N2 outbreak near Young was first detected in a free range and cage layer chicken farm near Young. The free range birds had potential exposure to waterbirds and a dam is located close to the free range poultry enterprise. Ducks have been reported on the property. Mortalities were first seen in the free range birds before clinical signs were seen in the caged birds, suggesting free range layers were infected before the cage layers. Avian influenza viruses are known to circulate in migratory and waterbirds in Australia. This incident appears to be a point source introduction by a wild bird, followed by adaptation and selection of a virus with high pathogenicity to chickens. A second infected property was detected and confirmed to be HPAI H7N2. This is a caged layer farm. Re-use of cardboard egg cartons is the most likely route of transmission from the first infected property to the second infected property and between enterprises on the first infected property.

The Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) is a formal, legally binding agreement between Animal Health Australia, the Australian government, all state and territory governments, and currently fourteen livestock industry signatories (‘parties’). The EADRA covers the management and funding of responses to emergency animal disease (EAD) incidents. HPAI H7N2 is a category 2 disease, which means that government covers 80% of the costs and industry covers 20% of the costs. The industry costs are determined in relation to industries' gross value of production. Under EADRA, each industry party must take reasonable steps to ensure that its industry meets the cost sharing obligations of that industry. The Commonwealth may initially meet an industry’s cost sharing obligations, and that industry will then repay the Commonwealth within a reasonable time period.'

Statements by politicians and others about the outbreaks were factually incorrect. A comparative analysis on the number of avian influenza outbreaks in Australia between 1976 and 2013 demonstrates that most avian influenza outbreaks were in intensive housing systems. The last two outbreaks in 2012 and 2013 were in very large free range flocks. The risks of avian influenza in free range should be discussed in the context of the size of the flock and the stocking density. 
The industry needs to learn from this – for example, dams should not be located anywhere near the range area to limit the potential for wild duck access. Most of us in the free range industry have been well aware of this issue. There is also a problem with operating different production facilities on the same property. Establishing Barn, Cage and intensive Free Range sheds in close proximity to each other, with staff moving freely between the different systems, is a disaster waiting to happen.


Anonymous said...

The real issue here is that these large operations are an artificial construct designed solely to exploit the current lack of a legal definition of 'free range'. They are a compromise between state of the art egg production and real free range giving us the worst of both systems.

If these farms were barnlaid then the performance of the birds would improve and the risk of bird flu would be exponentially reduced. It is insanity to have multi-million dollar cage plants sitting next to stinky converted free range sheds. It is just a desperate attempt by the producers to make more money by having free range birds with 200% production rates!

There is no need to discuss the risk of avian influenza in free range if the code was observed. None of these farms would allow their hens outside if they lost their ability to sell their eggs as free range. They are not doing it for the birds' benefit, they are doing it to make money.

You know why we are getting ai in free range flocks where we weren’t before? Simple, the big guys are under far more pressure to actually let the birds out. They never used to, some still don’t. Now they are forced to let them out we are actually seeing the environmental degradation which was obviously going to happen and it is a very inviting environment for wild birds. The solution is simple; stop letting the birds out.

Clearly the supermarkets have no issue with the dust bowl moonscapes they are certifying. There is no real issue with dustbowls but, as you know, that quickly becomes a manure riddled mudscape after rain. Here is your disease breeding ground and it is an indictment on everyone that this sort of situation is allowed to fester.

These big operators run their shedding with precision but letting the hens outside is just a nuisance add-on to get accreditation. It is a huge risk for not only them but realistically, as we have seen at Young, the food security of the nation.

freeranger said...

We are still hoping that consumer pressure will lead to modification of the major supermarket plans for intensive 'free range' production. We have basically given up on the politicians because (with a few exceptions) they don't want to take any action. They prefer to leave things to 'market forces' which means big business.
The ACCC has the power to act and there are expections that things will happen before the end of the year.