The poultry industry on the New South Wales Central Coast is on high alert after the detection of a rare strain of salmonella on three egg farms.

Key points:

  • Farms on the Central Coast have destroyed thousands of chickens and eggs after salmonella outbreaks in March
  • The outbreak has unsettled farmers recovering from Newcastle disease that traumatised the region in 1999
  • Industry group Australian Eggs says the threat has been stabilised but should not be ignored

The outbreak has so far affected 11 properties in NSW and Victoria since last year, and has sparked numerous supermarket egg recalls during that time.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries said all affected properties were linked through the movement of people, eggs or equipment.

The salmonella was detected at one Mangrove Mountain property in March, and another two in May.

It is understood thousands of chickens and eggs were destroyed and there was no risk to public health.

Raw eggs contain salmonella but the bacteria is killed when an egg is properly cooked.

A NSW DPI spokesman said strict bio-security measures had been stepped up across the Central Coast plateau, including enhanced monitoring and surveillance activities.

Newcastle Disease legacy unsettles Mangrove Mountain

The response to prevent the potential spread of the bacteria has been unsettling for a region devastated by a major outbreak of Newcastle disease two decades ago.

In 1999, nearly 2 million chickens were slaughtered, and the entire ridge quarantined to eradicate the virus.

Pet birds were included in the mass cull and it took more than 10 years for the local industry to get back on its feet.

Central Coast farmers said while the salmonella outbreak was nothing like the Newcastle disease emergency, it had made “everyone nervous”.

The egg industry’s peak body Australian Eggs said the impact on farmers could not be underestimated.

“Some of the farms on the Central Coast were not the largest farms in the industry, so I’m sure it was a significant number of birds but not the largest by any means … you can only imagine that’s had an enormous impact on the farms affected,” Australian Eggs managing director Rowan McMonnies said.

He sent a warning to all local farmers that “the threat is very real”.

“I encourage other egg farms to assume that their neighbours have been impacted even if they haven’t, to ensure that at the end of the day they’re going to be protected.

“It’s a new challenge for some parts of the egg industry but at the same time I think it’s a necessary one.

The NSW Member for Gosford Liesl Tesch said the Newcastle disease emergency had prepared local producers well for any bio-security threat.

She said she was happy with how the situation had been handled.

“Our security measures are in place and the communications are all there and the farmers have been co-operating very closely with the Department of Primary Industries about bio-security and awareness conversations and prevention and risk management,” Ms Tesch said.

“We haven’t had any recalls in our community … we’ve had no health impacts.”

Financial hit ‘in the millions’

Australian Eggs estimated the overall salmonella outbreak had cost the industry tens of millions of dollars, with the financial burden placed solely on farmers.

While the Central Coast’s major chicken processors stressed the bacteria was only confined to the egg industry, they introduced what has been described as extraordinary precautions to safeguard their businesses.

They have told the ABC even stricter bio-security measures should be enforced.

“Some parties are suggesting that should be considered but as it stands there are many, many risks in egg farming and this is one of them and it’s falling on industry to manage it,” Mr McMonnies said.

Australian Eggs was quietly confident the outbreak had been stabilised but said it may never be known how the bacterial strain got into Australia in the first place.

“Stabilising it is a huge achievement,” Mr McMonnies said.

“We now have to ensure it stays stable and through that work towards eradication, no set timeframe but it’s generally not going to be as quick as anyone would like.”