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Lack of avian flu compensation will hurt poultry sector, says FairPlay

Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development compensates for sick birds culled, but not the millions culled by official directive because they had been in contact with or near infected birds. File picture

Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development compensates for sick birds culled, but not the millions culled by official directive because they had been in contact with or near infected birds. File picture

Published Aug 31, 2021

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Banele Ginindza

The government’s attitude towards avian flu compensation will discourage existing poultry farmers and is a massive disincentive to aspirant broiler or egg farmers, civic organisation FairPlay has said.

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This comes as poultry organisations have drawn a blank in efforts to engage the government in the establishment of a fund, as is global practice, to compensate farmers for loses incurred from culling chickens either directly affected by Avian Influenza or those at risk due to contact with infected birds.

A statement by Mpho Maja, the director of animal health at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, states that “Animal Health will not offer incentive agreements in the foreseeable future for the destruction of healthy but at-risk commercial chickens”.

The department compensates for sick birds culled, but not the millions culled by official directive because they had been in contact with or near infected birds.

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Recent reports have put the value of culled birds at R1.5 billion.

FairPlay founder Francois Baird said the stance by the government flies in the face of efforts by the government and the poultry industry to encourage new entrants in terms of the transformation objectives of the poultry master plan. Knowing they would be at risk in a future bird flu outbreak might cause them to take their talents to other industries.

There was little of no compensation during the 2017 bird flu outbreak. This is set to be repeated in the current wave of infections gripping South Africa, which is not yet over.

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Compensation is recognised internationally as an important control mechanism during bird flu outbreaks, because it encourages the reporting of infections and enables a swift response to contain and eradicate the disease.

The World Organisation for Animal Health says compensation schemes are “a key incentive to support early detection” of bird flu.

“The converse, unfortunately, is also true. Farmers who know they are going to have to kill some or all of their flocks if they report an outbreak, and face financial ruin because of a lack of compensation, will be tempted to keep quiet. That will slow down containment efforts and enable the disease to spread,” Baird said.

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“Government should be helping poultry farmers, not shutting them down. When culling is ordered by government-appointed veterinarians, there should be government compensation. FairPlay appreciates that money is tight in all departments, but, in the national interest, the government should reconsider its stance on culling compensation,” Baird said.

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