Astral seeks vaccine plan as new bird flu outbreak strikes


Johannesburg - Astral Foods [JSE:ARL] has reported a second outbreak of avian flu at one of its farms outside Standerton in Mpumalanga, and has been engaging with government to regulate vaccination programmes to stop the spread.

According to a statement issued by the poultry producer, this second outbreak at Welbedacht farm is not related to the one reported in June at its breeding farm in Villiers. The outbreak on Villiers farm has been contained and the farm remains quarantined, Astral confirmed.

The Welbedacht farm has 48 poultry sheds, and the flu has only affected one poultry shed on the farm.

Astral is engaging with the government to regulate vaccination against the virus, said Gary Arnold, Astral managing director of agriculture.

Globally commercial vaccines have been developed for the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). They have been successful in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Mexico, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam, said Arnold.

“The protection of high value breeding stock in South Africa is imperative in order to curb against large-scale financial losses in the local poultry industry, to ensure food security and to curb job losses as a result of production capacity losses in this industry.

“We trust that government and the relevant authorities will act swiftly and diligently with their approval to use vaccinations against HPAI in poultry breeding stock,” said Astral chief executive Chris Schutte.

“When the country was faced with the invasive fall armyworm threat in the maize industry, the matter was dealt with urgently by government and received personal attention from the minister of agriculture.”

Schutte said the avian flu is a matter of national interest as it impacts jobs.  

Chicken supply

The outbreak will not impact broiler supply to Astral’s processing plants, or the supply of chicken to the market, said Arnold.

“All efforts are being taken to curb this outbreak and limit its impact on this farm, and any further consequences depend solely on whether the infection will spread to other houses on the farm,” he said. The outbreak has only impacted breeding stock and not broiler birds to be used for meat production.

“It now appears that H5N8 is endemic to Mpumalanga and Gauteng, as the virus persists regionally within commercial poultry, wild birds and backyard chickens as evidenced by its confirmed presence across these provinces.”

On July 31 the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) reported two new outbreaks in the Standerton district, not including Welbedacht farm.

According to DAFF, the number of confirmed outbreaks is 10, four related to commercial poultry, three related to wild birds, one related to captive hobby birds and two outbreaks related to backyard poultry, said Arnold.

READ: Bird flu looks set to hurt SA's battling economy

Analysts previously warned the influenza outbreak may impact the economy. DAFF acknowledged that trade has been disrupted by bird flu, as neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe and Namibia recently banned the trade of poultry products from South Africa.

The ban has been a “major blow” to the industry, Dawie Maree, head of information and marketing for agriculture at FNB Business, told Fin24.

If the current ban lasts longer than three to four months, it will lead to at most 2 500 job losses. The effects will also impact adjacent industries such as grain, he explained. 

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