About 300 birds have died of avian flu on a commercial chicken-layer farm in Ekurhuleni

The poultry industry, a key segment within the agricultural sector contributing about R50bn per annum to SA’s GDP, is on high alert and implementing contingency plans after the outbreak of avian flu on a farm in Gauteng.
On Tuesday, the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development confirmed that there had been an outbreak of avian flu on a commercial farm in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng. About 300 birds died from the virus on the commercial chicken-layer farm, which focuses on raising egg-laying birds.

The department said Gauteng veterinary authorities placed the affected farm under quarantine and are busy with an investigation of the outbreak.
“They are performing back and forward tracing, to determine the extent of the outbreak and assist with safe disposal of dead chickens and disinfection of the farm,” the department said in a statement.
According to the department, the farm was also part of the highly pathogenic avian flu outbreak in 2017.

That outbreak, which affected large segments of the poultry sector, led to a marked drop in exports when some neighbouring countries suspended poultry imports from SA in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.  The industry has been struggling to regain market access since then. So the latest outbreak, albeit isolated, is likely to cause panic across the sector.

The sector has been on the back foot in recent times largely due to cheap chicken imports from Brazil, the US and Europe.  It has also been under pressure due to increasing feed costs and a drop in demand for poultry as consumer incomes continue to take a beating due to Covid-19. Feed, which includes yellow maize and soya bean, accounts for about 65% of production costs.

“The whole industry has been placed on high alert and the appropriate biosecurity contingency plans implemented as advised, which will include a restriction on the movement of people and birds for both bigger companies and SMMEs,” industry body the SA Poultry Association (SAPA), said in a statement.
It said this is the first outbreak of avian flu on a commercial farm in SA since 2017, “which had a significant impact on the layer industry and also marginally affected the broiler industry”.

Humans can be infected with avian flu through direct contact with infected animals or contaminated environments. However, recent strains of avian flu detected in SA showed no sign of being infectious to people, according to the department of agriculture.  There is currently neither a preventive vaccine nor a treatment for avian flu. Current practice in most regions of the world entails the culling of infected birds.

SAPA said there  currently is a widespread outbreak of avian flu in Europe, which was first confirmed in October 2020. Northern European countries have been predominantly hit, however these outbreaks have not caused as much of a loss to the poultry industry as the previous large-scale outbreaks of 2015 and 2017, due to lessons learnt previously, the association said.

“The role of migratory wild birds in the spread of the virus has been previously proven, and containment of poultry flocks in covered environments is recommended to avoid possible contamination as far as possible,” SAPA said, adding that the World Health Organization and the World Organisation of Animal Health have been advised and confirmed that the strain of the virus has been found to not be dangerous to humans, and in the isolated cases where transmission has occurred, it could be treated effectively.

“Consumers are reminded that meat and eggs on the shelves are safe for consumption as long as normal food-safety steps are followed when preparing meals. Poultry meat stocks in the country are sufficient due to increased production during the last year-and-a-half, and to an extent a reduction in consumption of poultry meat during the Covid-19 pandemic,” SAPA said.


Business Day 

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