Cape Town - The South African Poultry Association (Sapa) said that while the industry is recovering following recent highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) or bird flu outbreaks resulting in the culling of 8.5 million chickens, a full recovery is expected within 18 months.
The country battled two strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza – H5N1 and H7N6 – and resultant outbreaks across provinces. The HPAI affects poultry and wild birds, and in South Africa, millions of birds and chickens have been culled to contain the spread of the virus.
Sapa Broiler Organisation general manager Izaak Breitenbach said evidence points to the infection rate has peaked, and after very serious initial concerns, the recovery process is under way.
Breitenbach said the recent HPAI outbreaks posed an unprecedented threat to the industry.
“It never had to deal with the volume and rate of infection before, far surpassing the 2017 HPAI outbreaks. Thankfully, the swift action of the industry brought the recovery time down, and we expect the industry to fully recover within 18 months.”
Farmers are required to cull infected animals in accordance with the Animal Diseases Act of 1984. To date, 8.5 million chickens have been culled to curb outbreaks. This includes slightly more than 2.5 million broiler breeder chickens and approximately six million of South Africa’s layer flock.
Poultry farmers have been badly affected by the outbreak and were not compensated for their losses, he added.
“While it seems the domestic poultry industry has no shortage of opportunities to demonstrate its resilience, the outbreak has put many livelihoods at risk. Farmers are having a difficult time recovering costs, especially during a period of recovery. A change in policy is needed to support impacted producers, and such a cost recovery mechanism will serve well to keep consumer prices low and our farmers afloat.”
The virus can be found in the faeces of infected birds and discharges from their noses, beaks and eyes. Domestic birds can be infected through faecal contamination from wild birds or through direct contact with infected poultry on other premises.
Last month, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said sporadic cases of H5N1 infection had been reported in humans related to outbreaks in birds but that infection in humans remains very rare.
Despite large outbreaks in poultry and wild birds across the world, only eight cases globally of H5N1 in humans have been reported to the World Health Organisation in 2023.
The cases were linked to close contact with infected birds in the form of handling, culling, slaughtering or processing.
The NICD said poultry products, including commercially available eggs and fresh and frozen chickens, were safe for consumption.