Victorian egg farm Farm Pride Foods (ASX: FRM) has confirmed the loss of a third of its productive hen flock due to outbreaks of bird flu impacting two farm facilities in the Lethbridge area.
The company first confirmed an outbreak of the H7N7 avian influenza virus at a Lethbridge farm two weeks ago, announcing its livestock would be depopulated in line with AUSVETPLAN – a nationally-agreed strategy for the response of emergency animal disease incidents in Australia.
In a statement today, Farm Pride confirmed a second farm, a free-range operation housing 40,000 hens, has been affected by the virus and Agriculture Victoria (Ag Vic) has issued a destruction order to cull all livestock on site.
As a result of the outbreaks, the total number of layer (egg-laying) hens lost – including cage, free range and barn – now stands at 380,000, representing about 33% of Farm Pride’s productive hen flock.
Outbreak occurred despite strict controls
In today’s statement, Farm Pride said the latest outbreak has occurred “despite strict monitoring and controls that have prohibited the movement of birds, equipment and products within and out of restricted areas and this farm”.
“It is disappointing that despite the highest biosecurity levels and efforts of the farm management and Ag Vic that this site has now succumbed to the virus. The AI H7N7 virus is a particularly virulent and aggressive strain.”
Farm Pride said it continues to work closely with Agriculture Victoria to “ensure compliance with all restricted and control area orders.”
Movement controls enacted for Golden Plains Shire
From 7 August, Victoria’s chief veterinary officer Dr Graeme Cooke issued a housing of livestock clause for 30 days that legally requires all poultry owners within the state’s Golden Plains Shire restricted and control area to keep their birds enclosed. This even includes those with just two or three chickens or birds.
The order came after the H7N7 avian influenza virus was detected at a free-range egg farm near Lethbridge, just outside of Geelong, on 31 July and a second farm was confirmed to have the virus on 6 August. The second farm appears to be Farm Pride’s facility as indicated in its 10 August announcement.
In addition, a turkey farm near Bairnsdale in East Gippsland was found to have the low pathogenic strain H5N2 on 10 August.
“Work is now underway to thoroughly decontaminate all sites to ensure all remnants of the virus are eliminated,” Agriculture Victoria stated.
“While this is an important milestone as part of eradication efforts, it does not mean the threat is over”.
Victoria’s health department confirmed the H7N7 and H5N2 strains of bird flu are “not a risk to the public as they rarely affect humans unless there is direct and close contact with sick birds”.
“There are no food safety issues identified; properly cooked chicken meat and eggs are safe to eat,” it stated.
Impact on revenue
While there is a level of uncertainty regarding the extent and duration of the outbreak and its consequences, the company has forecast a reduction in full year FY21 net revenue of between $18-23 million.
“Recovery strategies are already being implemented and to that end the company acknowledges the support of all of its stakeholders especially our customers and staff,” it said.
It confirmed all other company operations remain unaffected by the bird flu issue and operations are continuing as normal across all other parts of the business.