Eggcellent news: A control order around Lethbridge directed at poultry has been lifted, bringing to an end a more then half-a-year of bird flu restrictions. Photo: FILE

Bird flu battle over

March 4, 2021 BY

THE avian influenza outbreaks that saw tens of thousands of chickens and turkeys in the Shire destroyed and poultry locked down has officially come to an end.

Mid-last week a final order put in place by Agriculture Victoria, a control area centred east of Lethbridge, was lifted.

The move signalled an end to a more than seven-month battle with two strains of avian influenza, the highly contagious H7N7, and the less virulent H5N2.

Victorian Minister for Agriculture Mary-Anne Thomas acknowledged that the move meant Australia was free of H7N7 bird flu in domestic stock.

“This is a significant achievement and I congratulate poultry owners, the poultry industry, Agriculture Victoria and affected communities on their tremendous effort,” she said.

“A world-class biosecurity system is so important in protecting our $6.7 billion livestock industries. We stand ready to respond to any pest or disease outbreak, securing our agriculture sector and protecting our environment.”

Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud also praised all those involved in the Golden Plains response and that a bird flu free Shire would have impacts for international trade.

“The recent detections in Victorian poultry were all successfully eradicated,” he said. “In implementing the response, Victoria has had to rise to unprecedented operational challenges.

“Three months have elapsed since disinfection processes were completed and ongoing surveillance and tracing has not detected any further spread of avian influenza.

“As a result, Australia has now regained freedom from high pathogenicity avian influenza in accordance with international guidelines published by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

“This is an important step in re-establishing export markets that have imposed restrictions on Australian poultry or poultry products and thus maintaining the competitiveness of Australian producers.”

The Shire’s over seven-month long battle with bird flu started in July last year when the highly virulent H7N7 strain of the disease was found on a commercial chicken farm in the Lethbridge area.

That sent the immediate district into poultry lockdown as Agriculture Victoria also issued orders to keep all birds in houses and limited the movement of products and plant and equipment associated with the industry.

More cases of H7N7 were subsequently detected on other nearby chicken farms, while a turkey operation in the area also had birds come back positive for the H5N2 variant of the illness.

The H5N2 variant was linked to an outbreak near Bairnsdale, where a small control order remains in place.

The response to the Golden Plains bird flu outbreaks was set against the global coronavirus pandemic, a point not lost on Mr Littleproud who also acknowledged the role played by other state authorities.

“Perhaps the greatest challenge for the Victorian Government has been managing the disease response while complying with COVID-19 social distancing and movement restrictions forcing services to operate virtually, requiring rapid uptake of new technology and procedures,” he said.

“It has been extremely pleasing to see the secondment of government veterinarians from New South Wales, Queensland and the Commonwealth to bolster the response capacity, along with on-going support in the field from private veterinary practitioners.

“This is an excellent example of the cooperation that allows the efficient and effective operation of animal health systems in Australia.”