Concerned: South African Poultry Association CEO Kevin Lovell says the risk of the disease is likely to decrease only towards the start of summer. Picture: SUPPLIED
Concerned: South African Poultry Association CEO Kevin Lovell says the risk of the disease is likely to decrease only towards the start of summer. Picture: SUPPLIED

Stakeholders in the poultry sector fear that the deadly bird flu, which has spread to two more farms, could affect more chicken farmers in the coming weeks and this may lead to big losses in commercial production units.

Namibia‚ Botswana‚ Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique have all halted imports of poultry products from SA.

The poultry industry is reeling and has shed hundreds of jobs in recent months. It has blamed this on cheap chicken imports, mainly from the EU.

The bird flu has added to the sector’s woes.

The Department of Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries confirmed this week that the highly contagious strain of bird flu had spread to one farm in Gauteng and another in Mpumalanga, the region where the disease was first detected.

The farms affected by the bird flu outbreak are all involved in commercial layer chickens.

The outbreak was first confirmed in June at another two farms in Mpumalanga.

The affected farms were placed under quarantine‚ the birds culled and eggs destroyed.

South African Poultry Association CEO Kevin Lovell told Business Day on Wednesday that based on previous trends, the risk of the disease was likely to decrease only towards the start of summer.

"At the moment, all farms are at high risk … the three big production farms that have been affected [two in Mpumalanga and another in Gauteng] had all the security measures in place, but it [the bird flu] still got in."

He said the affected farms would have to cull all birds on the property and recall and destroy all eggs.

The farms’ bottom line would probably be severely affected as they were required to shut down production for up to six months while they did surveillance and cleaning, said Lovell.

All types of chicken were at risk of contracting bird flu‚ but this particular strain of the disease did not affect humans. Lovell said SA had about 145-million live chickens at any given moment and those affected on the four farms amounted to about 900,000.

"The impact so far [on the broader poultry sector] has been limited, but there is a high risk that the avian flu will spread to other farms across the country," said Lovell.

Wessel Lemmer, a senior agricultural economist at Absa, said containing the disease and destroying the infected poultry was a priority for the industry. The [bird flu] is virulent and can lead to big losses in commercial production units.

"However, there is sufficient reason to believe that the outbreaks can be successfully contained without spreading and impacting the production of poultry negatively in the rest of SA," said Lemmer.

"Collaboration in the private sector is professional and sufficient but we need urgent and decisive action from public stakeholders on how to deal with culled birds."

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