Avian flu may in­flict R1.2bn dam­age

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - Joseph Booy­sen

THE WEST­ERN Cape could suf­fer the big­gest set­back should the avian flu spread to the prov­ince, with po­ten­tial losses es­ti­mated at more than R1.2 bil­lion in terms of di­rect ex­port in­come.

Paul Makube, an agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist at FNB, pro­vided this as­sess­ment in re­sponse to the con­fir­ma­tion of the first out­break of the avian flu in South Africa last week.

Makube said the out­break was bad news be­cause the poul­try in­dus­try had been un­der stress be­cause of last year’s drought and was cur­rently strug­gling to re­cover.

He said the higher im­ports re­sulted in sig­nif­i­cant price pres­sures on the lo­cal in­dus­try at a time when feed costs reached record highs last year.

“Job losses in the sec­tor con­tin­ues due to pro­duc­tion cut­backs in the face of im­port com­pe­ti­tion and nar­row mar­gins. The out­break of the avian flu is def­i­nitely a set­back for the in­dus­try in terms of rev­enue loss, which will be felt across the value chain,” he said.

Makube said a fur­ther spread and de­pop­u­la­tion or culling of birds would re­duce de­mand for feed, par­tic­u­larly maize, given that it was a ma­jor in­gre­di­ent in an­i­mal feed.

The re­duc­tion in out­put would also lift do­mes­tic prices, fur­ther adding to the al­ready sticky meat in­fla­tion, which in May rose 1.3 per­cent month-on­month and 12.3 per­cent yearon-year.

Makube added that if there was an out­break of avian flu in os­triches, it would slash ex­port earn­ings from os­trich meat, leather and feath­ers and have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the cur­rent ac­count.

He said his­tor­i­cally about 90 per­cent of the os­trich meat was ex­ported and the di­ver­sion to the lo­cal mar­ket would de­press prices be­cause de­mand was not strong enough to ab­sorb the ad­di­tional vol­umes.

“The West­ern Cape in par­tic­u­lar will be the big­gest loser as it ac­counts for about 77 per­cent of South Africa’s os­trich pro­duc­tion. Losses could be more than R1.2bn in terms of di­rect ex­port in­come and the cost of culling birds.

“Agri­cul­ture in the West­ern Cape ac­counts for about 4 per­cent of lo­cal GDP and al­most 23 per­cent of South Africa’s agri­cul­tural GDP. In ad­di­tion to the drought, fur­ther losses due to avian flu will be a se­ri­ous set­back for the in­dus­try.”

Agri SA said on Fri­day that the coun­try’s first out­break of the Highly Path­o­genic Avian In­fluenza H5N8 had been con­firmed in the Vil­liers area in the Free State.

The H5N8 strain of avian flu, which was be­lieved to have been trans­mit­ted by wild mi­gra­tory birds, has al­ready wreaked havoc on the poul­try in­dus­try in Zim­babwe where hun­dreds of thou­sand of com­mer­cial birds have al­ready had to be culled, Agri SA said.

The West­ern Cape gov­ern­ment said on Fri­day its vets were cur­rently in dis­cus­sion about the re­cent out­break.

“We are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that our an­i­mal pop­u­la­tion re­mains dis­ease-free and that we re­spond speed­ily to out­breaks if they should oc­cur.

“In this fi­nan­cial year, we are in­vest­ing R91 mil­lion to reach these ob­jec­tives. In the event of a risk, our vets will put the nec­es­sary con­trols in place to se­cure our­selves against the spread of the ill­ness.”

Agri SA said the dis­ease was pri­mar­ily spread by di­rect con­tact be­tween healthy and in­fected birds or through in­di­rect con­tact with con­tam­i­nated equip­ment or other ma­te­ri­als.

It said the virus was present in the fae­ces of in­fected birds and in se­cre­tions from their noses, mouth and eyes and could spread into do­mes­tic flocks kept out­doors through fae­cal con­tam­i­na­tion from wild birds while in­fec­tion among in­door flocks was spread through air­borne se­cre­tions and fae­ces.

Kevin Lovell, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the SA Poul­try As­so­ci­a­tion, told Busi­ness Re­port on Fri­day the As­tral farm was cur­rently the only in­ci­dence of this virus strain in the coun­try, with a lim­ited num­ber of birds af­fected.

How­ever, Lovell said it could have an im­pact on the in­dus­try if it spread fur­ther in the coun­try.

Lovell added that it was more wide­spread in Europe al­though the num­ber of out­breaks there had de­clined.

Do­mes­tic poul­try pro­ducer As­tral Foods con­firmed last week that a strain of the avian flu had been iso­lated at one of its poul­try breed­ing sites based in the Vil­liers district.

The poul­try firm said sam­ples from the af­fected poul­try had been an­a­lysed by the On­der­stepoort Ve­teri­nary In­sti­tute and a pro-ac­tive de­ci­sion was taken to quar­an­tine the farm and the specific site af­fected would be de­pleted of all birds.

This will be done in col­lab­o­ra­tion with state ve­teri­nar­i­ans and the NSPCA, with the de­ple­tion done ac­cord­ing to in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cepted stan­dards. – joseph.booy­sen@inl.co.za

Sam­ples from the af­fected poul­try had been an­a­lysed by the On­der­stepoort Ve­teri­nary In­sti­tute.

PHOTO: EPA

The first out­break of the Highly Path­o­genic Avian In­fluenza H5N8 has been con­firmed in South Africa, in the Vil­liers area in the Free State, says AgriSA.

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