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Chicken back on the festive menu as poultry industry ‘well’ on its way to avian flu recovery

Chicken back on the festive menu as poultry industry ‘well’ on its way to avian flu recovery
(Photo: Jamie McDonald / Getty Images)

The South African Poultry Association says the recovery process from the H7 and H5 bird flu strains is ‘well under way’ after its infection rate has peaked. This will come as a huge relief for consumers who have been warned of shortages in not only chicken, but eggs too.

Thanks to the swift action by producers, the poultry industry expects shortages this festive season to be minimal. This was according to Izaak Breitenbach, general manager of the South African Poultry Association’s Broiler Organisation.

Breitenbach confirmed that, thus far, 8.5 million chickens had been culled to curb the outbreaks of the H7 and H5 bird flu strains – including slightly more than 2.5 million broiler chickens, and about six million of SA’s layer flock.

Breitenbach told Daily Maverick on Tuesday, 31 October that infection rates of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak had peaked.

“After very serious initial concerns, the recovery process is well under way. Speculation about huge shortages of chicken this year and into 2024 is, therefore, not based on the facts, and does not take account of recent developments.”

Daily Maverick has reported extensively on the avian flu crisis, including the outbreak affecting some six provinces, the egg shortage and the stress poultry farmers feel about the economic costs of their culled chickens. 

By 17 October, there had been 96 outbreaks of the flu across the country, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development confirmed during an update to Parliament in late October. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Poultry producers bear crippling cost of avian flu as government accused of dragging its feet

Breitenbach told Daily Maverick that while many poultry farms had been badly affected, “the industry’s quick action has softened the worst of the outbreak, getting several mitigating solutions in place to ease the impact of the outbreak on producers and consumers”. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Looming shortages – cook without eggs with these alternatives

Some of the mitigating solutions included the industry extending the age of non-affected flocks by two to three weeks, which would result in extra egg-hatching production. Producers have also imported 63 million broiler-hatching eggs to replenish flock, with the first batch arriving earlier in October. 

“Forecasted import volumes for the next three months look stable and increasing, which will also supplement local supply and help to address any possible shortage,” he said. 

“These interventions are designed to circumvent any short-term supply shortages – following its swift action, the industry expects that any shortages this festive season will be minimal,” Breitenbach added. 

Vaccinations are also on the cards for the industry, as reported by Business Maverick’s Ed Stoddard. 

Western Cape records no new cases 

Dr Noluvuyo Magadla, the director responsible for animal health at the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, told Daily Maverick that there had been no further outbreaks of avian flu in the province since the one reported in George earlier.

Earlier in October, Daily Maverick reported the outbreak of the flu on a farm in George. The farm had been quarantined and affected birds culled. The birds had been infected following the introduction of affected birds from another province. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bird flu hits Western Cape, sparks call to heighten biosecurity measures

“The birds at the centre of the initial outbreak at a farm in George were culled and disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner,” Dr Magadla confirmed.

In total, from April to June 2023, seven outbreaks of the H5N1 HPAI virus had occurred, confirmed by Western Cape agriculture MEC Dr Ivan Meyer at the time.

Daily Maverick sent queries to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. The department’s comments will be added when Daily Maverick receives a response. DM

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