12/07/2017 16:52 SAST | Updated 12/07/2017 17:32 SAST

R4 Billion A Month and 30,000 Jobs At Stake If Government Doesn't Get Its Act Together On Bird Flu, As Fresh Cases Emerge

Two fresh cases were confirmed on Wednesday.

Radu Sigheti / Reuters

South Africa's agricultural department confirmed on Wednesday two more outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N8 bird flu have been detected on commercial layer farms in Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

The farms have been placed under quarantine and movement of chickens and chicken products onto and off the farms have been stopped, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said in a statement.

"The two farms were immediately placed under quarantine by the state Veterinarian. The quarantine includes, as a minimum, a prohibition of the movement of chickens and chicken products onto and off the farm. The necessary measures have been taken to contain and eliminate the disease as efficiently as possible on both farms," said the department.

Two previous outbreaks of avian flu in recent weeks have also been detected in South Africa, including on a farm belonging to poultry producer Astral.

Neighboring countries including Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana suspended poultry imports from South Africa following the initial outbreaks of avian flu.

A report by RMB Global Markets Research suggests: "R4.1bn in gross value added per month will be lost in the poultry and egg sector if preventative measures are not found."

Some 2,500 jobs and more than R80 million in wages will be lost every month the longer the outbreak lasts, the research found. "For as long as preventative measures remain absent, we can only sketch scenarios to provide a guiding framewok of understanding what is at stake."

Poultry and egg production is the fastest growing sub-sector in agriculture.

Some other worst case scenarios:

  • If production is halted for a year, R49 billion in output will be lost
  • 30,000 jobs and R1billion in wages could be lost
  • R100 million in export revenues at risk
  • Demand for soybeans and yellow maize as chicken feed to fall by 2 percent

The H5N8 strain has been detected in several countries in Europe, Africa and Asia over the past two years, with its spread aided by wild bird migrations. Highly pathogenic among fowl, it poses little risk to human health.

The department said: "The export of products, which had been processed to ensure destruction of the virus, is also continuing, unless the trade partner has raised an objection. The H5N8 virus does not affect humans, Department of Health through the National Institute of Communicable Diseases tested workers from the affected farms and no human cases have been detected."

The public is advised to avoid any gathering of chickens for shows, auctions and similar activities. However, should such activities continue, the organizers are advised to liaise with the State Veterinary Authorities and the auction houses must also be registered with the PDMA.

(Additional reporting from Reuters)