The outbreak of avian flu could have long-term ramifications, industry experts say. Picture: Supplied

Cape Town - South African farmers are considering importing fertilised eggs after the recent outbreaks of the H5N8 strain of avian influenza which has ravaged the sector, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Minister Senzeni Zokwana said.

“The [poultry] industry has requested to be given permission to import fertile eggs to close the supply gap as a result of culled birds. We have received several requests which we are considering,” Zokwana said speaking in Cape Town.

“We are conducting thorough risk assessment in order to avoid exposing the country to other disease risks. The basic work has been conducted and there are two options which have been presented to the poultry industry."

He said that the first option was for risk mitigation to be conducted through stringent quarantine measures on arrival of the hatching eggs and the second option was for stringent quarantine measures in the countries where the eggs will come from, and the areas would have to certified to be free of specified diseases that the South African government will approve - coupled with less stringent post arrival quarantine measures. 

“A request for measures applied for compartments has been sent to Brazil, and we are awaiting this information. The requests can only be considered for imports from avian Influenza free countries as well as those which South Africa currently imports from,” he said.

Zokwana said that negotiations are ongoing to find a way to provide an incentive to poultry farmers who have experienced massive losses due to destruction of healthy birds and eggs in an effort to eradicate the disease.

Outbreaks have been reported in Mpumalanga, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the North West and the Western Cape. So far, 24 outbreaks were detected; 10 in commercial chickens, three in ostrich, three in backyard chickens and eight outbreaks in wild birds and birds kept as a hobby. 

“The strain found in the current outbreak does not cause disease in humans," said Zokwana.

"The World Organisation for Animal Health and World Health Organisation have both confirmed that the H5N8 strain does not affect human beings. We have been working with the department of health since the first outbreak was reported; they have tested workers in the affected farms and there has not been a single case of human infections.”