Industry quick to blame free range systems as bird flu hits American intensive poultry farms
More than seven million poultry have reportedly been killed in the United States after an outbreak of avian influenza prompting industry players to urge Australian producers to tighten biosecurity measures. In an ABC media report* Andreas Dubs, executive director of the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, was quick to point the finger at free range systems and the importance of biosecurity despite the fact they were all intensive factory farms having several million birds.
An outbreak of bird flu in Young, NSW, in October 2013 was hotly debated when Federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce blamed it on the free range egg industry, however the farm in question was anything but free range. The Young property stocked 420,000 birds of which 240,000 were in a caged facility, whilst the rest were classed as ‘free range’ and kept on a couple of hectares. The stocking rate of their ‘free range’ operation equated to an enormous 80,000 hens per hectare. – this is far from free range when you compare the genuine free range farms who abide by the 1,500 hens per hectare prescribed in the Model Code**.
Humane Society International (HSI) Director Verna Simpson said, “The fact is that there has NEVER been an outbreak of bird flu traced back to a REAL free range egg farm in Australia. Major industry players should not make comments they are unable to substantiate given that they have no evidence to support them. All five of the new cases in the U.S. have occurred in intensive farms where stocking densities are high, and birds are closely confined and more susceptible to disease.” Ms Simpson concluded, “Brash comments targeting small free range farms could prove highly damaging when these small producers who are using humane and traditional farming methods instead deserve our full support.”
* ‘American bird flu outbreak puts Australian biosecurity in focus’ - ABC Rural, 28th April 2015