SA’s embattled poultry industry is breathing a sigh of relief amid indications that the bird flu outbreak has largely been contained.

“The amount of [avian flu] incidents have reduced markedly with only one outbreak recorded in the last three weeks,” Izaak Breitenbach, the GM of industry body the SA Poultry Association (Sapa), said.

The recent outbreak of the highly contagious avian flu which was first detected in April — affected commercial farms in various provinces including Gauteng, the Western Cape and the North West. It led to neighbouring countries, including Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Mozambique, implementing temporary bans on the importation of local broilers and eggs in a bid to curb the spread of the disease.

Similar outbreaks in 2017 cost farmers close to R2bn. The recent outbreak threatened to decimate the sector which has been on the back foot largely due to cheap imports mainly from Europe and Brazil. In addition to reduced demand due to the Covid-19 economic crisis, the sector has been hit hard in recent months by a rise in production costs, threatening its viability.

The poultry industry is the largest segment of the agricultural sector, contributing about R50bn a year to GDP. It is responsible for at least 100,000 jobs.

Breitenbach said the avian flu has peaked and the infection rate is diminishing.

“To date during the first peak fewer farms were affected than in 2017 most likely due to improved disease management by industry having learnt valuable lessons from the 2017 outbreak,” he said.

There is neither a vaccine nor a treatment for avian flu. Current practice in most regions of the world entails culling infected birds. 

Breitenbach said only in one case did the disease spread from farm to farm during the recent outbreak. During the 2017 outbreak there was a lot of farm-to-farm spreading.

“The virus is still very active in wild birds specifically in the Western Cape ... having learnt from the 2017 outbreak the disease is not a thing of the past, but we expect a second wave of infections, and then once that has run its course we expect the virus to linger in wild birds for up to 12 months. It is my view that the disease is incredibly well managed by producers, private veterinarians and the veterinarians from [the department of agriculture, land reform & rural development,” Breitenbach said.



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