South African battery chickens in a poultry farm.Photo: EPA

JOHANNESBURG - DEADLY pathogenic avian flu outbreaks in the poultry industry could have a negative impact on food inflation if it is not managed properly, an industry body has warned.

Agbiz head of agribusiness research Wandile Sihlobo said the outbreak was “concerning on the food inflation side”.

He said avian flu could partially be the key driver of the increase in meat inflation because of its higher weighting within the food inflation basket.

“Chicken accounts for a 14 percent share of the overall food basket. Beef accounts for an 8% share. Pork and lamb combined account for a 5 percent share. Overall, this shows the significance of poultry within the food basket,” said Sihlobo. The concerns come after bird flu was confirmed in a chicken farm in Uitenhage outside Port Elizabeth.

The H5N8 bird flu strain emerged in the country in June and has already been identified in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West, KwaZulu-Natal, and North West.

Last month, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Disheries said it had culled 60000 birds in the Western Cape as a result of the flu. Sihlobo said food inflation decelerated to 6.8 percent year on year in July, from 6.9 percent in the previous month. He said most food products had decelerated with the exception of meat which was proving “stickier than expected”, recording 14.4 percent on a yearly basis in July. This was the highest since December 2011, according to Sihlobo, who said: “This is on the back of an outbreak of avian influenza and cattle restocking process after the 2015/16 drought.” He added that there was still no “material impact on the commodities prices” as a result of the outbreak, “but it’s something that we will be watching closely over the coming months to see if it’s managed properly”.

Sovereign Foods, the country’s fourth-largest poultry producer, announced on Thursday that it had culled approximately 5000 chickens in Uitenhage, representing nearly 1 percent of total production at the farm. The JSE-listed company, which is valued at R895million, said the Hartbeespoort operations, however, remained unaffected. It said management was taking appropriate steps to prevent the outbreak from spreading to other farms. Dr Lubabalo Mrwebi, veterinary services chief director at the Eastern Cape Rural Development and Agrarian Reform, said farms within the 30km radius from the main source would be quarantined and be under “strict veterinary surveillance to minimise” possible spread to other farms.

“The department calls on poultry farms to immediately contact local state veterinary services if they notice high mortality of their chickens.” The SA Poultry Association’s Poultry Disease was not immediately available for comment,