Bird flu outbreak delays Woolies’ cage-free plans

Woolworths’ plan to phase out caged eggs by 2018 is no longer achievable, a NSW Farmers spokesman has said, with a 2013 bird flu outbreak near Young seriously affecting the supply of free range eggs.

The outbreak, which saw all 400,000 hens from a Langfield Pastoral Company property, as well as 50,000 from a neighbouring property destroyed, could have long term effects on Australia’s free range egg production.

According to SMH, egg production won’t recommence until tests on sentinel chickens show that the chickens on the affected farms are virus-free.

Langfield Pastoral Company had hoped to be back in production within six weeks but nearly three months has passed and the company is still awaiting clearance.

Bede Burke, chairman of the NSW Farmers egg committee said some egg producers will have to walk away from the industry.

''I would be in a better financial position here if my farm burnt down and I got the value of my insured assets and my birds, than waiting three months to start up again,” he said.

Burke said he’s abandoned plans to add 50,000 free range birds to his operation.

''The one percent risk is just not worth it.

''People who have grown and expanded into free range in the last seven years, to be now 35 to 40 percent of egg production base, they are now carrying this risk factor that you cannot insure against and we don't include in our pricing structure for our eggs.''

Burke said retailers would be foolish to walk away from caged eggs, because their supply is much more stable than that of free range.

''To sum up and put things in perspective, we are all very nervous. We are very nervous about the risk of the disease, our price outcomes,” he said.


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