About 8 000 ostriches in the southern Cape are being slaughtered in a bid to stamp out a fresh outbreak of avian flu that has dogged the local ostrich industry since April last year.
The movement of ostriches has now been banned from the Breede to the Great Brak River.
This is despite the beleaguered industry being confident it had “sorted out” the H5N2 disease in the Western Cape and that it was a step closer to having its export status re-instated and the EU export ban lifted.
Infected ostriches were found about two weeks ago on a farm near Albertinia and on two farms near Heidelberg. It is government policy that all ostriches are killed on farms where infected birds have been found. Farmers call it a “stamping out policy”.
Piet Kleyn, interim CEO of the SA Ostrich Business Chamber, said on Wednesday the authorities were still slaughtering the birds in a “modified slaughter” procedure.
“It’s a terrible thing for the whole industry. We have to look at other control measures because this stamping out is possibly not the way to go. We are discussing other measures because it is difficult to see how the stamping out policy will solve the problem,” Kleyn said.
The feathers of the birds are retrieved and the carcasses made into fertiliser.
Kleyn said possible solutions that should be examined included vaccinations and expanding the new heat treatment processing plant where export ostrich meat is parboiled by being heated to 70°C.
“This process is approved by the EU. It is happening in Oudtshoorn, but it is new and there is limited capacity.”
Ries Dempsey, marketing manager for Klein Karoo International, which markets ostrich products, said the heat process was “still very much in the developmental stage”.
“It is the only one in the country. The long-term aim is to try to put all the produce through this process. Other countries like Thailand use this for chicken, but no other country does this with ostrich meat,” Dempsey said.
The export ban had been in place since April last year.
Wouter Kriel, spokesman for the provincial agriculture department, said on Wednesday they had been confident at the beginning of the year that avian flu had been “sorted out” in the province.
“We were going to see if we could get a three-month disease-free period, but now the control area which used to be only Oudtshoorn has been extended to include the southern Cape from the Breede to the Great Brak rivers.”
It was necessary to have three months without any new avian flu cases before they could apply to the national government to have their export status re-instated.
Kriel agreed that the killing of entire flocks was not a viable solution.
“You will kill all the ostriches on a farm, but there will still be bird flu because it is in the wild bird population.”