Day-old chicks euthanised as unrest leaves poultry sector with feed shortage

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Abattoirs are under threat, and disease-control measures are impacted.
Abattoirs are under threat, and disease-control measures are impacted.
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  • SA is one of the world's leading consumers of chicken - and chicken is the country's most-consumed meat.
  • But ongoing riots are threatening the country's crucial poultry sector, with day-old chicks having to be euthanised.
  • Abattoirs are under threat, and disease control measures are impacted.

Violent protests, looting and destruction of infrastructure, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, are threatening the poultry sector – a key factor in SA's food security, industry leaders warned on Thursday.

SA is one of the world's top consumers of chicken, which is the country's most-consumed meat.

But as riots continue, chickens have been stolen and some farms burnt. Threats have been made to burn abattoirs, though this has been averted so far. Abattoirs have taken the threats seriously, however, and are still not slaughtering.

Supply chains and the transport of poultry products have been severely disrupted with logistics services and distribution centres being forced to close.

Furthermore, the storage capacity for frozen poultry products has become limited.

Izaak Breitenbach, general manager of the SA Poultry Association, said the problem is twofold: on the one hand, products cannot get to market, and on the other hand, with the hundreds of shopping centres and retail outlets having been looted and destroyed, it will be difficult to get poultry products to where it used to go even if the supply chain reopens. 

Farms without feed, chicks euthanised

"The biggest issue is the threat to food security developing as our central distribution centres are closed and not taking in anything. We slaughter about five million birds a day nationally - about 30% of these in KwaZulu-Natal - and they end up in cold storage, but the stores are getting full," said Breitenbach.

"The ability to move animal feed to poultry farms and other livestock sectors has also been severely disrupted and can lead to a massive animal welfare issue for the industry.

Some farms had been without feed for about three days by Thursday. Hatcheries supply about four million birds per day nationally, but cannot get them to farms.

Day-old poultry stock that could not be moved to farms throughout the country for placement had to be euthanised.

Biosecurity measures destroyed

Millions of chickens on farms in KwaZulu-Natal, which belong to leading South African food manufacturing company RCL Foods, will be affected if the company cannot get feed to them, group corporate affairs director Stephen Heath told Fin24 on Thursday.

"The problem is getting mainly soya from inland to KwaZulu-Natal and due to the closure of the N3, so our feed mill is unable to produce chicken feed. At the same time, we can't bring feed in from other mills as they are also inland and need the N3 to be open," Heath explained. 

"The processing of chickens will recommence so the slaughter side is relieved, but the problem is feeding the chickens." 

Breitenbach points out that the poultry industry was already under enormous pressure due to high input costs, the impact of Covid-19 and related lockdowns, and a recent outbreak of bird flu.

"During the past couple of days, the industry has been beset by violent mobs of thousands of people invading farms, stealing poultry livestock and equipment, destroying infrastructure and endangering the lives of industry employees. Numerous cases of arson have been recorded, and threats to burning down large poultry processing plants have been real," said Breitenbach.

"While the industry grapples with the impact of highly pathogenic bird flu, the farm invasions have destroyed all biosecurity measures present on those production units, and these flocks are now at risk of infection."

Red meat, milk also under threat

It's not only poultry farmers facing the heat – red meat and milk supplies are also suffering.

Angus Williamson of the Mooi Mpofana Agricultural Association and the Red Meat Producers Organisation in KwaZulu-Natal says the biggest challenge is not being able to get milk to processing plants.

He estimates that in the past 48 hours, about half a million litres of milk had to be destroyed due to road closures. He expects huge shortages of milk in coming weeks.

At the same time, farmers are battling to get feed for chickens, pigs and cattle.

"We are doing our best to make do with what we have and can last a couple of days without more feed. We hope feed mills can start operating again soon, but their challenge is that raw materials they need cannot be delivered. Fuel is not coming in either. We cannot let our animals suffer, but for now there is not yet a need to kill any of them," he says.

According to Gerhard Neethling, general manager of the Red Meat Abattoir Association, livestock cannot get to the abattoirs and products cannot go from the abattoirs to be distributed due to transport risks.

"To make matters worse, the disruptions come in an area in which foot-and-mouth disease-control measures are in place, complicating attempts to manage the disease. So, at this point the challenge for abattoirs is mainly logistics. In many cases the markets and butcheries have been destroyed so the impact has been across the value chain," says Neethling.

"We even know of inland abattoirs slaughtering less because the product cannot reach the market any more."

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