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What South Africa can learn from the 2023 Avian Influenza outbreaks

Critical issues highlighted over the course of the conversation at a poultry webinar

Press release

The FairPlay movement hosted a webinar on 15 May to discuss the lessons learned from the 2023 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreaks. The forum included several representatives from government and industry, namely:

  • Dr Adri Grobler, Chief State Veterinarian at Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development;
  • Dr Ziyanda Majokweni–Qwalela, Deputy Director of Epidemiology, Biosecurity and Laboratory Diagnostics at Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development;
  • Dr Alan Kalake, Director of Epidemiology with the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development;
  • Mr Izaak Breitenbach, GM of the SA Poultry Association’s broiler board.
  • Mr Francois Baird, Founder of the FairPlay movement, and discussion moderator

The discussion was focused on abstracting higher-order solutions to pernicious issues of avian influenza outbreaks plaguing both the poultry industry and government. Several critical issues were highlighted over the course of the conversation:


Veterinary and veterinary resource shortages:

Despite government’s best efforts, there is a critical shortage of veterinarians, and veterinary resources. This has not only caused delays in creating a vaccination roadmap for willing producers, but the shortage also means that many producers are carrying the additional cost due to the lack of state resources. More state-employed veterinarians may ease the congestion in developing a vaccination programme. Furthermore, it may address the additional inspection requirements for those seeking to export their
products. South Africa needs more veterinarians.


Biosecurity and monitoring requirements are complex and not  100% effective:

The biosecurity and monitoring requirements for vaccination and exemption from culling are overly complicated and burdensome. Dr Grobler also elaborated on the virulence of certain strains, illustrating how certain pathogens are endemic, negating the efficacy of stringent biosecurity protocols. More effective and practical solutions are needed to lower the barriers to compliance – it is this complexity that may force producers to act in contravention to the Animal Diseases statues. The Panel has made it clear that the South African government subscribes to a “stamp-out” policy, and has SAPA’s unreserved support on this approach, but this does not mean there aren’t any other innovative solutions or approaches to the problem.


Government and producer compliance with Animal Disease Control Act of 1984:

The South African Government currently subscribes to a “stamp-out” policy – if an infected bird is detected, the entire infected flock is destroyed, and the poultry houses cleaned and sterilised at significant cost to the operator. Dr Majokweni mentioned that farmers can apply for culling exemption, as such, the Gauteng Department of Agriculture confirmed that the 10 remaining flocks that survived HPAI and applied for an exemption from culling are not shedding the virus. Hopefully, their applications for exemption will be finalised as soon as possible.

Added to this, it was made clear by Dr Kalake that poultry producers may apply for compensation, but currently no such compensation is being paid, nor is there money to compensate farmers for culling their flock. This lack of compensation could lead to producers choosing not to cull surviving birds, which poses a significant risk to other flocks around the country. The practice of culling without compensation is devastating, particularly to small farmers, as they cannot sell their product, and there is no insurance to replace the lost product; a double-dip loss. The additional costs of cleaning and sterilising the chicken house and equipment is also not factored in.

During the course of the 2023 outbreaks, producers had to cull over 9.5-million infected birds. According to Mr Breitenbach, this translates to a minimum of R9.5-billion in financial losses for the industry in just replacing their flock – this does not account for the cost of cleaning and disposal, which are all out of pocket expenses for producers. Compensating farmers for culling is critical to not only the sustainability of the industry, but the protection of South African consumers to the enforcing of the Animal Diseases Control Act.


Failed/unachieved objectives on HPAI preparedness:

There are no producers able to vaccinate their flock currently, and no exemption from culling has been granted – there is a dire need to address the shortcomings in preparation for another HPAI outbreak. It is with gratitude that we acknowledge the core insights provided by our state veterinarians, and it serves as an excellent basis to redress the issues of bird flu outbreaks. In our search for higher-order solutions, it is evident that more conversations with senior policy makers are required to bolster the local poultry industry against future outbreaks that waste money and cost jobs.

FairPlay will continue to engage with government bodies, from the DTIC, to DALRRD, Treasury and SARS to ensure the Poultry Industry is included in policy-setting conversations. From these conversations, we hope to glean the means to:

  1. Expedite the facilitation of company compliance with exemptions from culling
  2. Simplifying the compliance with vaccination requirements so that producers can start protecting their livelihoods and their flocks through vaccination.
  3. The establishment of an emergency fund to compensate farmers for culling infected flock, in line with the Animal Diseases Act. A suggestion to source the fund was using the Anti-Dumping Duties importers are charged for purchasing products from dumpers.

The forum agreed that these are mission-critical considerations, and timing is of the essence; avian influenza threatens every South African, not just poultry producers – it is vital that we empower our industry to take care of itself, else it cannot be expected to take care of anyone else. South Africa’s poultry industry endeavours to produce the best, most cost-effective protein possible. Unnecessary and avoidable complications caused by bird flu may increase the cost to consumers, while wreaking havoc on the farm.

Related Agribook pages include “Poultry and Chicken Farming“.

Photo by Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash