Bird flu continues to spread in SA, forcing firm to freeze operations

(iStock)
(iStock)

Johannesburg - Bird flu is spreading in South Africa with Astral Foods [JSE:ARL] reporting that the disease has infected more chickens at a farm in Mpumalanga, prompting the company to put the operation under quarantine.

Astral’s attempts failed to isolate the highly pathogenic strain H5N8 found in one shed at its Welbedacht breeding facility near Standerton earlier this month and has now spread to other parts of the farm, the Pretoria-based company said in a statement on Thursday. The disease, which affected two of Astral’s operations, cost R50m so far, it said.

Some 16 outbreaks have been detected across the country, the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries said August 15, including eight commercial chicken farms, three in wild birds and two in commercial ostrich operations. While the disease does not affect humans consuming poultry, it is highly infectious for birds and typically kills entire flocks.

The disease is the third major headache for South Africa’s poultry industry in recent years, following increased feed costs due to the worst drought in more than a century in 2015 to 2016 and a trade row with Europe following an influx of cheap bone-in chicken portions.

Astral said contingency plans are in place to make sure that there’s no impact on supply to consumers. “This infection has impacted breeding stock and not broiler birds destined for meat production,” it said.

The stock dropped as much as 3.9% on Thursday before rebounding to trade up 0.3% at R154.50 a share at 10:17.

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