On the ground - Sharon Natoli
The key biosecurity risk to the egg industry is high pathogenic avian influenza.
The CSIRO research report showed Australians consider eggs to be an important staple food. Eggs are readily available because the industry is able to:
- Produce the required volume of eggs, currently 17 million each day; and
- Manage risks to reliability, namely biosecurity risks.
The scale and capacity of the industry would come as a surprise to many Australians. While there is a spectrum of egg farms from small to large, it is the small number of very large farms that produce the majority of eggs consumed in Australia.
These cage, barn and free range farms involve networks of large sheds that are often linked by conveyor belts to central grading floors. It is only when visitors stand in expansive cool rooms amongst towers of egg pallets that it becomes clear that the egg industry is not a cottage industry and that the existing industry capacity requires high technology intensive farming to meet demand.
In terms of managing biosecurity, the key risk is high pathogenic avian influenza. The relevant forms of bird flu are generally not a risk to humans but are difficult to detect and can move very quickly to wipe out entire flocks of laying hens. There have been recent outbreaks in the US and South Korea in which tens of millions of hens have succumbed to avian influenza, creating immediate egg shortages and having a substantial impact on farm businesses, food manufacturers and consumers.
Biosecurity is managed through protocols including buffer zones, limiting movement between farms and hygiene practices such as disinfecting visitors and vehicles. These practices are generally effective but cannot eliminate the risk of avian influenza or other disease outbreaks as they can be transferred through the movement of wild birds. It is here that the diversification of the industry is important.
While a small number of very large farms might be the most efficient way to produce eggs, having a range of large, medium and small farms reduces the risk of a biosecurity incident resulting in supply shortages.
The egg industry is constantly investing in biosecurity protections both as an industry initiative and as part of an agriculture sector-wide effort to maintain Australia’s high biosecurity standards.
This includes conducting mock avian influenza outbreak exercises to ensure a rapid and effective response can be relied upon to minimise the impact of any future incidents. Projects are also currently underway to investigate drivers of biosecurity engagement by egg farmers in Australia and approaches for improving adherence to protocols in the future.
Importantly, strict biosecurity protocols form part of the egg industry quality assurance program, Egg Standards of Australia. This ensures that compliance with protocols are part of an audit process by independent certification bodies to drive compliance and minimise industry risks.
The benefits of eggs as a staple food are significant but not fully understood.
As a natural whole-food, the nutritional benefits of eggs are generally recognised. Eggs are recommended as part of a healthy diet as they contain high quality protein and a range of nutrients that benefit individuals directly, as well as being linked to healthy eating habits more broadly.
The benefits of eggs as a staple food are significant but not fully understood and the dynamic nature of public health issues presents new opportunities for eggs to contribute to specific health problems.
There is also the potential for eggs to be used proactively to address public health issues by supplementing the feed provided to hens to improve the nutrition profile of eggs. This would need to be approached in step with health policy makers to maintain community understanding and support.
The egg industry is working towards a deeper understanding of the nutritional benefits of eggs through a range of programs.
A comprehensive nutritional analysis of eggs was recently completed to update previous data obtained in 2007. This analysis confirmed that the basic nutrition profile of eggs had not changed substantially but did identify a significant increase in Vitamin D as a result of improved testing technology. This is an important link given vitamin D deficiency is a significant public health issue in Australia.
The industry is also exploring how the significant choline levels in eggs relate to research about the importance of choline to foetal brain development.
Providing information about the egg industry is critical to building community trust.
There is substantial community interest in the egg industry and many voices offer information and perspectives on industry issues. This includes egg farmers, egg industry bodies, government bodies, retailers and non-government organisations. Each of these organisations has relevant information in relation to the industry and a perspective in relation
to that information.
Part of Australian Eggs’ role is to provide egg industry information to the community and our goal is to be the leading source of credible information about the egg industry. As Australian Eggs also provides marketing services, it is tempting to only focus on the positives with a view to driving egg consumption. However, we see this as counterproductive to our end-goal of increasing industry sustainability.
Consistent with the Sustainability Framework, Australian Eggs’ approach is to provide balanced information on both the contributions and impacts of the industry. It is hoped this will put the community in a position to better understand the context of egg farming and allow people to form their own views.
All About Eggs is a Kindergarten to Year 10 education program that provides lesson plans and resources for teachers to engage students across multiple syllabuses, covering food technology, health and nutrition, recipe development and environmental sustainability.
The Learn About Egg Farming area of the Australian Eggs website provides a wide range of information about egg farming and the egg supply chain. More than 15,000 users visited these pages in 2018, with each person spending an average of four minutes viewing the content.
Australian Eggs is active on social media and regularly distributes video content showing different aspects of egg farming. Videos about the different egg production systems, quality assurance, research and development projects, and profiles of Australian egg farmers were shared with the public in 2018. Through Facebook alone, these videos had a combined reach of over seven million people.
Assessment of biosecurity risks and protocols for industry‑wide adoption
Human nutrition research to better understand how eggs can contribute to human health
Public engagement on key aspects of the egg industry