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Bird flu raises supply chain concerns

Bird Flu

Supermarket shelves have been stripped of eggs following the introduction of buying limits, due to an outbreak of avian influenza in Victoria.

Coles announced last week that shoppers are limited to two cartons each, which has led to panic buying and empty shelves reminiscent of the pandemic days.

“Due to a shortage of supply on eggs, we have introduced a temporary limit of two items per customer/transaction,” read signs in stores.

“This will help maintain availability and support as many customers as possible.”

Coles is currently the only supermarket to announce purchasing limits. The restrictions are in place for all of the retail giant’s stores, excluding those in Western Australia.

“We are working closely with all of our suppliers to ensure eggs remain available for our customers and we are providing support to the industry in responding to the avian flu cases in Victoria,” said a spokesperson for Coles.

This is not the first time Australia has dealt with bird flu, with outbreaks occurring since records began in the 1970s.

At the time of writing, six farms in Victoria have been shut down due to confirmation of the highly infectious H7N3 and H7N9 strains of avian influenza, with Agriculture Victoria confirming measures are in place to help prevent the spread of the disease.

“All properties have been placed in quarantine and all poultry will be safely disposed of,” the department said.

“The sites will be cleaned and cleared of the infection.”

To date, 500,000 chickens have been euthanised at farms in the Meredith and Terang areas, but the department said Victoria has a “secure supply chain.”

Australian Eggs – a member owned not-for-profit company providing marketing and research & development services – backed this stance, suggesting that purchasing limits do not necessarily reflect a supply crisis.

“These avian influenza incidents will cause some disruption to egg supply as retailers reorganise their supply, but purchase limits or patchy supermarket shelves do not indicate a nationwide shortage,” said Rowan McMonnies, managing director of Australian Eggs.

“We know many Australians rely on eggs as a staple and it might be concerning to see signs of a shortage, but we want consumers to know that only a small part of the industry has been impacted by avian influenza and other egg farms are working hard to ensure over 18 million eggs continue to be available every day.”

The disease can survive for long periods of time and can spread to humans. However, authorities have been quick to quash consumer fears surrounding the safety of cooked chicken and eggs.

In an official statement, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) said bird flu is not a safety concern and there is no evidence to show the virus can be transmitted to people through properly prepared food.

“For animal products to be sold as food, animals must not be a source of food safety concerns. All retail products must meet strict food safety production requirements,” said FSANZ CEO Dr Sandra Cuthbert.

“Together, biosecurity and food regulation measures provide confidence in the safety of the food supply.

“Consumers can be assured poultry and egg products on sale are safe to eat, noting consumers and food businesses should always follow good hygiene practices when handling and preparing food.”

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