Government considers vaccinations as avian flu outbreak triggers egg shortages
South Africa’s Agriculture Ministry is considering vaccinations to contain outbreaks of avian flu that have caused egg shortages in some parts of the country.
Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza met with retailers on Monday to discuss the unfolding impact of avian influenza in South Africa and the government’s efforts to contain the plague.
“[The] Minister briefed the retailers on the containment measures that have been taken to limit the spread of the disease as well as possible solutions to manage such outbreaks in the short and the medium term, including vaccination,” an agriculture department statement said.
“It was evident from today’s engagement that the main challenge is primarily on the egg production side, where there are supply constraints in some regions of the country.
“In response to this challenge, the minister is focusing on measures to improve the availability of egg supply to consumers and simultaneously putting measures to contain the spread of the disease,” the statement said.
Several retailers, including Spar, flagged egg shortages last month after the slaughter of four million chickens. In many Gauteng retail outlets, the shelves with egg products remain relatively bare.
South Africa does not yet vaccinate chickens, but Dr Abosngile Balarane, the CEO of the South African Poultry Association, told Daily Maverick last month that it was the “long-term solution”.
Didiza met the association on Friday.
Cracking the egg problem
“The minister is embarking on the efficiency improvement in issuing import permits for egg products to ensure sufficient supplies for consumers. In addition, the minister is looking at the possibility of vaccination and currently reviewing applications by various suppliers,” the department statement said on Monday.
Imports are a costly option, not least because eggs must generally be kept in a refrigerator if travelling long distances. Once eggs have been cooled, they must be consumed shortly after they are removed from a fridge. This is a key reason why South African retailers sell eggs at ambient temperature – it saves costs. And, of course, long-distance transport increases the risk of breakage.
Vaccinations will also come with costs, adding to price pressures for a vital source of protein.
On the poultry front, the agriculture department said an assessment of “trade instruments” was being taken “to ease the supply of chicken meat”.
That would be likely to involve the lifting of tariffs and anti-dumping duties. DM