Poultry disease breaks out at Seng Choon egg farm, but SFA says disease not a food safety concern

There will be some supply disruption from the farm in coming weeks. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Seng Choon Farm, one of Singapore's three largest egg farms here, has seen an outbreak of Newcastle disease, a viral disease among poultry that can cause a temporary drop in hens' egg production.

As a result, there will be some supply disruption from the farm in coming weeks, said the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) in response to queries from The Straits Times on Friday (Feb 25).

However, SFA stressed that the disease is not a food safety concern.

"There are no known instances of transmission to humans through handling or consumption of poultry products, and eggs from Seng Choon can continue to be sold," it said.

Seng Choon Farm managing director Koh Yeow Koon said the first signs of the disease appeared last week, when there was a dip in egg production.

Laboratory test results from the Animal Veterinary Service (AVS) confirmed Newcastle disease, which affects the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems of birds.

The disease, which is endemic in the region, has resulted in a 40 per cent to 50 per cent drop in egg production, said Mr Koh. The farm typically produces about 600,000 eggs daily, about 10 per cent of Singapore's supply.

Mr Koh said the farm will be conducting more frequent cleaning to prevent the disease from spreading, and also relook the vaccination programme for its chickens, such as by giving them additional shots.

"The chickens will recover and egg supply will gradually resume," he said, adding that egg supply is expected to recover in about one to two months.

Both SFA and AVS have been working closely with Seng Choon to manage the disease situation.

SFA said it has also been engaging the other two egg farms which supply the local market - Chew's Agriculture and N&N Agriculture - to step up their biosecurity measures.

While a temporary supply disruption is to be expected from Seng Choon, Singapore's sources of hen shell eggs remains diverse.

About 70 per cent of Singapore's hen shell egg supply is made up of imports from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Spain and Poland, said SFA.

"In view of the Seng Choon situation, SFA has been in contact with egg importers, some of whom are actively responding to release more stocks from their buffer into the market and to ramp up imports," added the agency.

A FairPrice spokesman said higher feed prices, logistics costs and manpower shortages have impacted the prices of eggs, but that it has maintained an overall price increase of about 10 per cent.

More than 55 per cent of eggs sold at FairPrice are sourced from local farms, but the supermarket chain also carries eggs from other sources, including Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Ukraine, Spain and Thailand.

Similarly, DFI Retail Group, which runs Cold Storage and Giant supermarkets, said: “While we are always concerned with regards to any issues impacting our supplier partners, we have had for a long time now a diversified supplier strategy and are working closely with our other supplier partners to ensure our volume is not significantly impacted.”

The disease outbreak at Seng Choon is just one of the many factors that have contributed to eggs becoming more expensive, said Mr Sng Kaijun, director of egg importer Dasoon.

Prices of eggs have risen by about 30 per cent since late last year, he said.

Seng Choon Farm eggs on the shelves at the NTUC FairPrice supermarket in VivoCity on Feb 25, 2022. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

A spokesman for Chew's Agriculture said the supply shortage due to the outbreak at Seng Choon Farm is expected to be short term. It is also not the main factor driving up prices of eggs.

A main contributing factor is the rising cost of production, which has gone up by about 50 per cent over the past two years.

"We have been absorbing quite a bit of our production costs. But it has risen to a point where we can't keep doing so," the spokesman said, adding that it only started to raise its prices this year.

The ongoing Russian-Ukraine crisis may also add to supply shocks, as Singapore imports eggs from Ukraine.

SFA said that, as a general safety practice, consumers should always cook poultry and poultry products thoroughly.

Consumers can also consider alternatives such as liquid, powdered or pre-prepared eggs.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.