5 000 chick­ens culled af­ter avian in­fluenza out­break at Uiten­hage farm

The Herald (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - Shaun Gill­ham and Ri­aan Marais gill­hams@times­me­dia.co.za

SOUTH Africa’s fourth-largest poul­try pro­ducer, Sovereign Foods, has culled 5 000 chick­ens af­ter a strain of the dev­as­tat­ing avian in­fluenza was de­tected at a Uiten­hage farm.

This fol­lows 24 out­breaks of the H5N8 strain of bird flu at commercial chicken farms and os­trich farms around the coun­try since June.

The out­break comes as the share­hold­ers of Uiten­hage-based Sovereign con­sider a firm of­fer for a R907-mil­lion cash buy­out by Jo­han­nes­burg-based Cap­i­tal­works, which it pro­posed early last month.

News of the bird flu came to light when Sovereign – which also has op­er­a­tions at Har­te­beespoort – alerted its share­hold­ers yes­ter­day through a Stock Ex­change News Ser­vice an­nounce­ment.

It said about 5 000 birds, rep­re­sent­ing about 1% of Uiten­hage’s pro­duc­tion, had been culled.

Man­age­ment was tak­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate steps to pre­vent the out­break from spread­ing to other farms.

Eastern Cape Ve­teri­nary Ser­vices’ Dr Luba­balo Mr­webi said yes­ter­day the re­ports were ex­tremely con­cern­ing. He ques­tioned the way in which Sovereign had an­nounced the news, say­ing the state vet should have been alerted at the out­set.

He had not been aware of the out­break un­til con­tacted by the re­porter.

How­ever, Sovereign spokesman JP Roodt said last night that the state vet’s of­fice had been alerted and had al­ready been ad­dress­ing the sit­u­a­tion since Wed­nes­day.

“A third-party lab­o­ra­tory was in­volved in the avian flu test­ing,” Roodt said.

Sovereign man­age­ment were locked in meet­ings un­til late yes­ter­day and fur­ther de­tails of the out­break are ex­pected to be re­leased to­day.

Agri Eastern Cape pres­i­dent Doug Stern said this was the first they had heard of avian flu in the prov­ince, but it had only been a mat­ter of time un­til it spread to the Eastern Cape.

“The way avian flu had been spread­ing, I think we were lucky to be clear for as long as we have,” Stern said.

“This lat­est strain seems to be worse than pre­vi­ous cases, so I think it was only a mat­ter of time un­til our farms were also af­fected.”

He said the out­break would un­doubt­edly have a neg­a­tive im­pact on Sovereign’s busi­ness.

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