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Rainbow interdict may clip wings of small-scale farms

Ayanda Mdluli

A small-scale chicken farmer in the Western Cape is crying foul after being served with an interdict obtained by South Africa’s largest poultry producer, Rainbow Chicken, which aims to limit his output because of a claimed biosecurity threat.

The case could set a precedent for how the government helps small farmers in future.

Tyrone Poole, a managing member of an abattoir and poultry farm in the Hopefield area of the Western Cape, said yesterday that he had been issued with an interdict by the Western Cape High Court to curtail his operations because they threatened a Rainbow coop situated nearby.

He opposed these claims, arguing that his farm was involved with the Western Cape Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which had assisted with resources and finances to expand the farming operation legally.

Wouter Kriel, a spokesman at the department, said the court verdict in the case would affect the department’s ability to support small-scale poultry farmers in the future.

Poole had been advised to prepare an affidavit opposing the interdict, but the department could not assist him with the litigation process, Kriel said.

“We want to assist him with an environmental impact assessment on the farm,” Kriel said. The department had also funded the services of a state vet to limit any biosecurity threats.

Poole’s operation produces a range of kosher and halaal slaughtered chickens.

Stephen Heath, the corporate affairs director at Rainbow, said that a court order had been obtained in 2008 against Mzwamadoda Mangxolo, who owned the farm that Poole was renting.

Heath said that when Poole took over the farm last year, he did not take steps to comply with the National Environmental Management Act. He said the interdict allowed Poole to farm up to 250 chickens, and if he wanted to farm more he would need a disease protection plan from the state vet.

Poole was alleged to be farming up to 4 000 chicks instead of the stipulated 250. “This could endanger poultry in the area. We are willing to help him with whatever he needs… What he is doing is illegal and we have confirmed it with the directorate of land management,” he said.

According to court papers, Rainbow’s Hopefield Farm has 19 chicken houses on 150ha of land. “At any given time at each house there are (up to) 10 000 breeders housed.”

The papers explained that Hopefield Farm received one-day-old parent stock from Carolina and East London that were reared for 20 weeks then moved to laying farms around the Western Cape.

According to Rainbow, Hopefield Farm was a critical link to the company’s production chain. If it encountered any problems with the parent stock of Hopefield, it would make huge financial losses.

Poultry can be infected with various diseases through other animals, feed, people and wild birds. Known diseases include pullorum disease, Newcastle disease and avian influenza.

In 2005, the Western Cape was rocked by an avian influenza outbreak that resulted in the culling of 26 000 birds and meat exports banned in the EU market. Poole’s farm is in the province’s poultry belt, which includes a host of other poultry operations.

Kevin Lovell, the chief executive of the SA Poultry Association, said the Farm and Waste Management Act applied to every poultry farmer and was there to minimise the risk of diseases.

“We encourage… all farmers to comply with the National Environmental Management Act and the Environmental Waste Management Act. Compliance can be expensive for the smaller players but it’s the law of the land,” he said.

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