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Bird flu found at a SA farm highly contagious, more countries could ban SA’s poultry

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Chicken farm. (Image: Getty)

  • The strain of avian influenza found at a Johannesburg farm is highly infectious, the animal health department has said.
  • This strain is “trade-sensitive” and could see more countries ban chicken and other related products from SA.
  • About 300 chickens were culled and buried earlier in the week.
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Avian influenza detected at a commercial farm in the East of Johannesburg is highly pathogenic and could lead to more countries banning poultry from South Africa, according to the department of animal health.

On Tuesday, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development said 300 birds on a commercial farm in Ekurhuleni were culled after testing positive for the H5 strain of the avian flu. The farm was also affected by the highly infectious H5N8 bird flu outbreak in 2017.

Talking to the Business Insider SA, Dr. Mpho Maja, director for the department, said the test results confirmed that the Avian flu is highly pathogenic.

“The HP, as we call it, is trade-sensitive, so most countries would suspend trade from us,” Maja said.

“We’ve got poultry compartments that are free of avian inlfuenza, and that is what we’ve been trading from. We now need to reassure them (importing countries) that the rest of the compartments have not reported any cases,” Maja said.

Botswana was the first country to suspend the importation of poultry and poultry products coming from South Africa since the outbreak was reported.

South Africa, which exported 53,641 tonnes of poultry products worth R1.247 billion in 2019, exports its poultry to the SADC region and other neighbouring countries, with broilers accounting for 93.6 % of the industry’s total poultry exports.

Colin Steenhuisen, interim general manager of the South African Poultry Association’s egg board, said while there was a risk of spreading, the industry had learnt from the 2017 outbreak which caused a shortage of eggs in South Africa. Many birds were also culled.

In 2017, the country had a shortage of eggs of between 20% to 50%, with Cape Town being one of the hardest hit provinces, he said.

About 20% of the national flock, or 4.7 million hens were culled, at the time, he said.

Steenhuisen said there were no risks of running out of chicken or eggs.

“We are now experienced in what to do in these kinds of situations, having learned from the 2017 outbreak. And so we have immediately placed the industry on high alert. Biosecurity measures are elevated to maximum, and it means that people cannot enter the farm unless they work on the farm and they shower as they enter the farm. They go only to the house that they’re being  delegated to work in,” he said.

“Following the 2017 outbreak in South Africa Astral added additional measures to further strengthen (our)  farm defences…Many safeguards are in place on farms to try and limit the risk of infection,” Gary Arnold Astral’s managing director Agriculture said.

The affected farm does not belong to Astral. 

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