SOUTH AFRICA – There has been no negative reaction in the local market to the recent outbreak of a highly contagious strain of bird flu, the South African Poultry Association (Sapa) said on Thursday.
Speaking after a joint media briefing with the Department Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on plans to curb the outbreak of the disease, Sapa CEO Kevin Lovell said despite speculation on social media, the market had not reacted negatively to the outbreak, and early indications were that poultry sales remained healthy.
Mr Lovell, who also sits on an international panel on the deadly avian influenza, insisted that the strain of the virus in SA was not dangerous to humans, and that due to vigorous checks, it was unlikely that chickens already on the shelves would be infected. Furthermore, cooking killed the virus, said Mr Lovell.
Speaking at the same briefing, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana said the sale of live chickens would be restricted until local veterinarians can declare the country’s poultry free from the feared disease.
According to BusinessDay, he said vaccinating poultry against the deadly avian influenza would not be in the best interests of either the country or producers.
Mr Zokwana said the vaccination of birds would create an endemic situation, would affect surveillance efforts and would also impact SA’s export certification because all of SA’s trade partners wanted products from a country that was free of avian influenza and where vaccination was not practised.
A second case of avian influenza was confirmed in Mpumalanga this week, at a layer farm in Standerton.
The Department said the virus was the same strain as the initial case reported on a poultry breeder farm near Villiers last Thursday, but that the farms were not linked.
The affected farms have been placed under quarantine, the affected birds have been culled and eggs destroyed.
About 260,000 birds have been culled, according to Mr Zokwana.
He said that in order to contain the spread of the disease, buyers or sellers of more than five live chickens for any purpose other than direct slaughter at a registered abattoir will be subjected to conditions including registering with the Poultry Disease Management Agency.
He said farmers can sell only live chickens certified as healthy by a veterinarian or an Animal Health Technician.
Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia have all halted imports of poultry products from SA.
There are fears that this ban could further hurt the struggling local poultry sector, which has shed hundreds of jobs in recent months due to cheap imports from the EU. The EU has said its farmers are simply more competitive than their counterparts in SA.
Mr Lovell said that while producers were concerned about the ban imposed on SA poultry exports from neighbouring countries, it was unlikely to have a long term effect. Poultry exports make up only about 3.7 per cent of all production in SA.
Mr Lovell said SA has about 145-million live chickens at any given moment and those affected on the two farms constitute less than 1 per cent of all chickens in the country.
The government is seeking to establish new export markets for the local poultry industry in an attempt to save it from collapse.
The CEO of the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters, David Wolpert, said on Thursday that SA is a small poultry exporter so while some markets are closing and others are still likely to close, it is not a major loss of revenue.
“However if it (the bird flu) spreads, which is quite possible, then it can have a major impact on availability and pricing of (poultry) products in the local market. This is exacerbated by the fact that imports have been badly affected by avian influenza in Europe, and our own government’s unfair trade practice exercised in its reluctance to open avian influenza-free European markets in contradiction to international practice and convention,” said Mr Wolpert.