Avian flu could lead to egg and chicken shortages

There is a possibility of egg and chicken shortages around the country due to the avian flu outbreak, given the number of chickens that have been culled or killed by the disease, the South African Poultry Association (Sapa) has warned.

Outbreaks of the deadly virus have been recorded in six provinces, putting thousands of jobs on the line. The Western Cape, where there have been reports of egg shortages and price increases in poultry products, has been the worst affected by the disease. The province is one of SA’s main agriculture regions and the second-largest producer of broiler and eggs.

The poultry industry in the Western Cape is projecting production losses amounting to R800m due to an outbreak of avian flu.

“We had indications that there may be shortages of hatching eggs, particularly for meat-producing chickens,” said Charlotte Nkuna, the acting CEO of Sapa.

To alleviate the shortage, the industry was working with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to develop a protocol that will allow for the importation of hatching eggs, said Nkuna.

Farms affected by the disease have to cull all birds on the property and recall and destroy all eggs as part of measures to control the spread of the virus. Farms also have to shut down production for up to six months, while they embark on surveillance and cleaning

Western Cape economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde said there had been no new reported infections in the Western Cape this past week.

There are currently 63 confirmed cases of avian influenza in the province.

To date, 2.8-million commercial poultry birds have been culled. The majority of the birds culled were layer hens. In total, 121,363 broiler breeder chickens have died or been culled, and 28,717 duck broilers and 3,954 duck broiler breeders have died or been culled.

“We are still investigating a small number of suspect cases, but the infection rate appears to be slowing down. This is the first time since the infection started spreading in our province at the start of August that we have seen a marked decrease in the number of new infections. In other countries, infections for this strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza have decreased in summer, due to the heat,” said Winde.

“Our focus now is to rebuild our poultry industry. We are assisting farmers to make sure their poultry houses are cleaned, so that they are able to start the restocking process. Animal health technicians are supporting farmers in this process. I want to appeal to farmers to refrain from restocking until their poultry houses have been confirmed as clean. Restocking when the virus is still present will only lead to more culling.”

Winde said the effect on food prices was being monitored.

“We have observed price increases, but we will only have official numbers next week when Statistics South Africa releases its consumer price index. These figures will show us the prices for October.”

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