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Despite most recent avian flu epidemic in Western Cape, your omelettes are not yet in danger

Worldwide, there have been outbreaks of highly virulent avian influenza, which was found in poultry in other South African provinces early this year and throughout 2022. Picture by Jakub Kapusnak/Unsplash

Worldwide, there have been outbreaks of highly virulent avian influenza, which was found in poultry in other South African provinces early this year and throughout 2022. Picture by Jakub Kapusnak/Unsplash

Published Jun 7, 2023


Avian influenza has been found in two commercial layer farms in the Paardeberg region (in the Drakenstein and Swartland Local Municipalities), the Western Cape Veterinary Services has notified poultry farmers. The Western Cape Government admits that about 120 000 birds have perished or were destroyed.

According to the National Department of Health, the first incident was confirmed on Friday, April 21, and the second on Tuesday, April 25. Investigations are being conducted to determine the precise strain implicated.

Worldwide outbreaks of highly virulent avian influenza have been reported, and poultry in other South African provinces have been affected in 2023 and 2022. The virus hasn't been found in commercial poultry in the Western Cape, though, since early last year.

The Animal Diseases Act, 35 of 1984, regulates avian influenza. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NCID) advises reporting any suspicion of the illness in wild or domestic birds to the regional state veterinarian.

According to the Centre for Disease Control (Africa), avian influenza is a viral illness that can be spread through direct contact between healthy and diseased birds or indirectly through contact with contaminated objects or other materials.

The virus leaks from diseased birds' mouths, noses, and eyes as well as in their faeces. Domestic birds can also contract the disease indirectly through contact with diseased poultry on other properties or through faecal pollution of the environment caused by wild birds.

High pathogenicity avian influenza is now untreatable, both medically and pharmaceutically. In order to stop the disease from spreading, it is currently practiced in much of the world to kill diseased birds as soon as possible.

More instances of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) are being reported worldwide, adding to the biosecurity issue. Since the HPAI virus is very contagious among birds, the typical approach from the authorities is to kill any infected birds, quarantine the affected areas, and then impose import restrictions.

The Brazilian Association of Animal Protein (ABPA) reports that an outbreak among wild birds in Rio Grande do Sul is among the most recent incidents. The authorities in Hong Kong recently halted importation of poultry meat and goods due to an HPAI epidemic in Mexico.

A total of five HPAI cases have recently been found and confirmed in South Africa's Western Cape province in five commercial poultry enterprises. According to a statement from the Department of the Western Cape, as a result, 550 000 layers were depopulated and the properties were quarantined to stop the spread of live birds and eggs.

Because the outbreak is limited to the Western Cape and the killed birds represent just a small fraction of the national layer flock, despite the imbalance in supply and demand, it will only have a short-term effect. In the past, imports from the interior provinces of the remainder of the nation were used to fill shortages brought on by production issues in the WC.

Trade is obviously disrupted, producers suffer significant losses as a result, and if the disease spreads further, consumer prices may rise as domestic goods become more scarce owing to production reductions. Consumer prices for a dozen eggs increased by 1.6% m/m in April 2023 to R21.59/dozen, recovering 5.9% year over year from a decline of -0.6% y/y in March.

Producers currently face challenging circumstances, including sporadic electricity supply that still comes at a high cost (Eskom tariffs have increased by 18.5%), higher costs associated with running diesel generators for extended periods of time, and delipidized road infrastructure that raises distribution costs.

According to the Department of Health, these factors have nearly completely negated the effect of the 21% y/y decrease in maize prices (-R999/t), which in May 2023 averaged R3,684/t and R3,592/t for yellow and white maize, respectively. The National Health Department notes that maize is a key component of poultry feed, making this crucial for profitability.

The South African Poultry Association determined that despite challenging trade conditions, your omelette is not currently in danger. The industry is robust and will continue to work to make eggs widely available.