/ 20 May 2021

Poultry association says avian flu won’t rule the roost

Poultry Farmer Raises Battery Chickens Amid Bird Flu Scare
The H5N1 bird flu outbreak that was first detected in South Africa in April on a farm in the West Rand, Johannesburg, is now threatening the great white pelican population in the Western Cape.(Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Despite the local poultry industry having culled more than one million hens in 10 broiler and commercial layer farms in one month because of avian flu, and Namibia this week announcing a ban on South African poultry products, the South African Poultry Association says there is “no crisis”. 

“We do not have a crisis, because we still have enough eggs and broiler meat to supply the demand. Four million broilers are still slaughtered every day. Also, judging from the 2017 H5N8 strain of avian flu, in three months time we are sure to see a decline in infections,” said Izaak Breitenbach, the general manager of the South African Poultry Association.  

“It’s not a crisis yet. We believe it is a problem that will cost the poultry industry a lot of money.”

During the 2017 outbreak, 4.7-million hens had to be culled.  

During the 2017 outbreak, the poultry industry lost about R1.8-billion, he said, which had   “a huge economic impact on the poultry business”. 

Breitenbach said the association was monitoring 937 of the farms that report to it to prevent a further spreading of the disease. 

 He said the association was managing the current outbreak well. “We haven’t experienced any shortage of birds to date. But this might change in the future.”

On Wednesday, new outbreaks were reported on farms in the Western Cape. 

According to Breitenbach, the avian flu is restricted to Gauteng and the Western Cape, as well as parts of Mpumalanga and the North West that are close to Gauteng.   

“Judging by the 2017 flu outbreak, it didn’t spread so much in Gauteng but did a lot in the Western Cape. We expect it to be the same case, probably for the next three to four months. 

“And because it is highly pathogenic it will spread fast among birds. We have used data from several departments to check where high risk areas are. We quarantine immediately once infection is detected, and those infected eggs or broilers are culled and disposed of on site,” he said.

In April, Namibia announced a ban on poultry products from a commercial layer farm in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, and surroundings, where the outbreak was first recorded. 

This week the country’s ministry of agriculture announced a suspension on the importing of all South African poultry products, live and raw.

Namibia is one of four neighbouring countries that has placed restrictions on South African poultry. The others are Mozambique, Botswana and Lesotho. 

Hong Kong has also rejected some poultry products from South Africa. 

Breitenbach said that the neighbouring countries were “a small margin” of South Africa’s export margin, and that the restrictions would not have “that much of an impact on the poultry economy”. 

Chris Gilili is an Adamela Trust climate and economic justice reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa.