'Less disease' in caged hens

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
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WA egg farmers believe the mass cull of 435,000 chickens on an Eastern States property after an outbreak of bird flu highlights the risks involved in phasing out production from caged birds.

They have called on Woolworths to reconsider a move to cease stocking caged egg sales by 2018 because of animal welfare concerns.

Commercial Egg Producers Association of WA president John Simpson said yesterday that the risk of caged laying hens contracting bird flu was much lower.

Contact between wild birds, including ducks, and free-range hens is the major cause of avian influenza infections on egg farms.

The mass cull on the farm at Young in NSW was ordered after H7 avian influenza caused the death of 18,000 chickens on the property, which has free-range and caged production systems.

About three million eggs on the property cannot be used or sold and it is estimated the cull will cut the supply of eggs in Australia by 210,000 dozen a week.

Mr Simpson said the incident showed the dangers in not allowing the industry to operate caged, barn and free-range production models.

He said bird flu was a huge risk to egg supplies if all producers were pushed into free-range farming because of pressure from animal welfare groups and Woolworths.

Woolworths has agreed to meet industry leaders in WA but declined to comment on the biosecurity threat to egg supplies.

Industry leaders from all States met in Sydney yesterday to discuss the mass cull and the Woolworths move, which comes after a decision by Coles last year to stop selling caged eggs under its brand.

Forrestdale Farm Fresh Eggs owner Joe Sacca urged Woolworths to invest in industry research on the merits of the three production systems.

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