EXPECTED to be around for another year before eradication, a chicken virus in New Zealand is the cause of blocked exports to Australia until 2021. Infectious Bursal Disease Virus Type One was detected on two Otago egg farms belonging to the same company in August last year. While not posing any risk to human health, IBDV-1 can affect the immune system of young chickens.
Michael Brooks from the Egg Producers Federation and the Poultry Industry Association said poultry farms nationwide were recently tested and revealed no presence of the virus elsewhere. The infected chickens on the Otago farms were not showing any symptoms and so didn’t need to be slaughtered and could continue laying, and Mr Brooks said eggs from hens that had the virus were perfectly safe to eat.
Strict biosecurity measures have been put in place on the farms to ensure the virus didn’t spread. It was estimated that “probably a couple hundred thousand” hens had been affected by the virus, but that was a relatively small number given there were 4.1 million laying hens in New Zealand.
“There are birds there that on a blood test will show they have the disease, but as has been the case all the way through, show no signs otherwise of the disease,” Mr Brooks said. “So, they’ll be slaughtered at the end of their laying cycle in June 2021, and at that point we can definitely say there are no birds anywhere in the country with IBDV-1.”
Australia has stopped importing poultry products from New Zealand until the virus is eradicated, resulting in an annual $60 million in lost trade. The decision had been made to allow the infected chickens to complete their laying cycle because they were not sick, after debate in the industry about whether the infected chickens should be slaughtered immediately, to allow exports to resume sooner.
Due to the closure of the Australian market, the number of meat chickens grown in New Zealand was expected to drop by about 5 million this year – there were 125 million meat chickens grown in New Zealand in 2019.
“For the first time in probably 20 years we’ve seen less chicken produced in New Zealand,” Mr Brooks said. “Previously it has always grown year-on-year, so it has led to an impact on the amount of meat chickens being grown in this country.”
New Zealand has about 140 meat chicken farmers and 170 commercial egg farmers.