Chicken trade interruption should be less than 2 months

Cape Town – The bird flu outbreak should interrupt South Africa's poultry trade for less than two months, said Kevin Lovell, CEO at the South African Poultry Association (SAPA).

Lovell was part of a delegation from the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries that briefed the media on the measures government is taking following the emergence of the disease at two farms in Mpumalanga.

The department placed a blanket ban on the sale of live chickens to manage the further spread of the disease.

Asked during question time what the impact of the ban would be on chicken exports, Lovell said in 2016, altogether 3.7% of the chicken in South Africa was produced as broilers. “Most of the exports were to countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region but in compartment systems, so the interruptions in trade should be limited,” Lovell said.

According to him, the department has allowed chicken producers to use the compartment system from the mid-2000s for disease control in the poultry market.

READ: Bird flu: SA bans sale of live chickens - for now 

“We therefore have a mechanism that other countries don’t have and this will allow us to get back into the markets,” Lovell said.

He also noted that the specific strain of bird flu is more likely to affect long-lived birds. “Broiler chickens, which are by and large sold by small-scale farmers, are short-lived so the risk is more skewed towards commercial producers.”

Gareth Lloyd-Jones, chief commercial officer of the Ecowize Group, a hygiene and sanitation service provider for the food, pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, said in a statement an industry-wide ban is the best way to ensure the virus is contained as quickly as possible.

“What the public need to understand about this outbreak is that if this problem does became a pandemic, it would create a massive shortage and the laws of demand and supply would prevail, forcing the price of chicken up.”

Containment measures

Earlier during the media briefing, Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana said government has decided not to allow the vaccination of birds against the disease as it could affect surveillance efforts and South Africa’s export certification.

READ: Bird flu outbreak poses new threat to SA's poultry industry 

Lloyd-Jones concurred, saying vaccination against Avian Influenza is illegal as infected vaccinated birds can continue to spread the virus while their symptoms are masked.

“It is important for poultry owners and breeders to prevent contact between their chickens and wild birds at this time. It is therefore advised not to feed chickens outside or to let them roam free or drink from open water sources.

“If infected, chickens will look sick and, because the virus spreads so quickly, you will notice high numbers of the flock dying off.”

When farmers suspect infection, they should not remove the chicken, its eggs, bedding, manure or any other tools from their premises. “Instead, do your best to quarantine the infected bird from the flock and call for assistance.

Zokwana also stressed that farmers who suspect that their chickens could be affected should not pronounce it as avian flu. “Call a veterinarian and don’t create a panic.” 

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