Bird flu, vac­ci­na­tion and in­dus­try trans­for­ma­tion

The Poultry Bulletin - - FROM THE DESK -

This will be my last let­ter to you as I’ll be step­ping down as CEO in Au­gust af­ter 11 mem­o­rable years of ser­vice. Hav­ing put so much of my en­ergy into SAPA, I think I’ll soon find that there are many holes in my life. I look for­ward to the op­por­tu­nity to for­mally take my leave of you all some­time in the next few months, and the chance to build up my en­ergy stores for my next ad­ven­ture in the world of work. For those of you who’d like to stay in touch, Louisa will have my con­tact de­tails avail­able. Dr Char­lotte Nkuna will act as CEO un­til such time as a full re­cruit­ment process has been com­pleted.

Avian in­fluenza

There has been much talk about vac­ci­na­tion as a means to man­age the cur­rent HPAI out­break, which con­tin­ues to spread - at the time of writ­ing this - quite slowly. The risk of fur­ther in­fec­tions will re­main high un­til sum­mer tem­per­a­tures start to have an ef­fect. This means all pro­duc­ers should take ad­di­tional pre­cau­tions to try to keep the disease out. In the ab­sence of de­fin­i­tive analy­ses for the disease trans­fer mech­a­nisms, we aren’t yet able to give you spe­cific ad­vice. In due course we’ll be able to do this, so in the in­terim all we can sug­gest are the sort of gen­eral biose­cu­rity prin­ci­ples that we like to be­lieve you were ap­ply­ing any­way.

Back to the sub­ject of vac­ci­na­tion. It’s likely that HPAI will be­come a more fre­quent pres­ence in many non-asian source coun­tries, and that some of these coun­tries rely quite heav­ily on trade, whether in breed­ing

ma­te­rial, meat and eggs, or pro­cessed prod­ucts. If the disease is to be­come more sea­son­ally com­mon - or res­i­dent - as it seems to be do­ing in Europe, it might be that a stamp­ing out pol­icy is no longer ap­pro­pri­ate. Clearly such a pol­icy is only suit­able if it can re­move the disease from the pop­u­la­tion for a sub­stan­tial pe­riod of time. Mass de­pop­u­la­tion each win­ter or, even worse all through the year, is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive in my view.

There’s al­ready some mis­un­der­stand­ing on OIE stan­dards re­lat­ing to trade re­stric­tions in the pres­ence of AI. For ex­am­ple, South Africa doesn’t ap­ply trade re­stric­tions in the pres­ence of LPAI when the OIE stan­dards, in their cur­rent form, don’t re­quire this in­ter­pre­ta­tion. No doubt if vac­ci­na­tion was per­mit­ted, then trade bar­ri­ers would worsen. We al­ready ex­port in ex­cess of R 1,5 bil­lion per an­num, and it’s a key part of the gov­ern­ment-led task team work on the poul­try in­dus­try that we be­come a sig­nif­i­cant ex­porter of poul­try prod­ucts. If we pro­vide a mere 5% of global poul­try meat ex­ports, the lo­cal in­dus­try would be South Africa’s sin­gle largest agri­cul­tural ex­porter in Rand terms. We should be cau­tious to de­stroy what al­ready ex­ists and what gov­ern­ment is work­ing on to as­sist us to do in the fu­ture.

On a global ba­sis, the ma­jor poul­try ex­porters are very con­cerned that any ap­proval of vac­ci­na­tion will dis­rupt the mar­ket se­verely and per­haps in long-term ways as well. That’s why any change to a vac­ci­na­tion-based AI strat­egy needs a lot of ba­sic and ap­plied re­search cou­pled with some con­sid­ered ne­go­ti­a­tion at the OIE be­fore the ap­proach is likely to win the sup­port of key pro­ducer coun­tries. I can­not see why we should be an out­lier coun­try - or want to be an out­lier coun­try.

Vac­ci­na­tion can serve three ba­sic pur­poses: preven­tion, con­trol and man­age­ment. For all three of these, there are two over­ar­ch­ing re­quire­ments, namely tech­ni­cal ef­fi­cacy (dif­fers ac­cor­dance to pur­pose), and prac­ti­cal­ity of ap­pli­ca­tion. There is no vac­cine cur­rently avail­able which can stop the shed­ding of virus and nei­ther is there any vac­cine avail­able suit­able for mass vac­ci­na­tion of all birds. It isn’t prac­ti­cal to re­peat­edly in­ject the na­tional flock. If virus con­tin­ues to be shed, then preven­tion of the spread of the disease isn’t pos­si­ble with vac­ci­na­tion although it is pos­si­ble that preven­tion of mor­bid­ity and/or mor­tal­ity could oc­cur.

As it can­not be said that the ve­teri­nary au­thor­i­ties have lost con­trol of the disease in South Africa one of the key trig­gers for the use of vac­ci­na­tion does not ex­ist. Rather it sug­gests that biose­cu­rity at the larger farms is not as good as pro­duc­ers be­lieve it to be, need it to be and want it to be. Our na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence with H6 and ND shows that pro­duc­ers are not able to use vac­ci­na­tion as a tool to pre­vent and elim­i­nate a disease - and not

even to fully con­trol a disease. The fact that this strain has a seem­ing pref­er­ence for long-lived birds, most of which are com­mer­cial lay­ing hens or pul­lets and mostly in multi-age sites, sug­gests that any vac­ci­na­tion strat­egy can­not be limited to broiler breed­ers alone. The com­mer­cial lay­ing in­dus­try is gen­er­ally be­lieved to have dif­fer­ent, and lower, stan­dards of biose­cu­rity than the broiler breed­ing in­dus­try so all long lived birds, in­clud­ing pul­lets, would have to be vac­ci­nated for a vac­ci­na­tion strat­egy to pos­si­bly work. You can’t even con­strain this ac­tion to high risk ar­eas as per the as­sess­ment of risk ar­eas done by Pro­fes­sor Cum­mings of the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town since there is a lot of bird move­ment around the coun­try from the var­i­ous broiler and layer pul­let sup­pli­ers. Then you have the spent hen in­dus­try, which would mean that such birds would have to have a strong vac­cine re­sponse be­fore they can be moved around and sold. If you add up the var­i­ous birds that fall into these cat­e­gories, you’re look­ing at per­haps up to 100 mil­lion birds a year (treat­ing spent hens as a class of birds for vac­ci­na­tion) if we vac­ci­nate. That’s a ma­jor un­der­tak­ing.

The other key trig­ger to use vac­ci­na­tion would be if the disease was zoonotic. This strain is not zoonotic. On the other hand, busi­nesses will fail and liveli­hoods will suf­fer if we don’t man­age to con­tain the virus.

It’s ironic that the broiler in­dus­try has been suf­fer­ing from the rav­ages of im­ports from the EU for the last few years - and it’s be­cause of the mas­sive out­breaks in the EU that the mi­grat­ing wild birds brought us this lit­tle gift. It seems as if Europe is giv­ing us a very hard time at present. Clearly the Euro­peans have suf­fered more than we have so far, and they con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence out­breaks in their sum­mer, which isn’t gen­er­ally ex­pected. This means the like­li­hood of them hav­ing an­other bad win­ter - and the wild birds bring­ing us more gifts from afar - is rather likely.

I can’t yet see that it’s in ei­ther the short or long term in­ter­est of the in­dus­tries to vac­ci­nate. Rather, we should spend some time and money to do for­ward and back­ward trac­ing in or­der to give bet­ter ad­vice on how to stop→

in­tro­duc­tion of the disease. We should also be mon­i­tor­ing all the water bod­ies in the coun­try to bet­ter map the risk pro­file of the disease.

On a more pos­i­tive note, a num­ber of our neigh­bour­ing coun­tries have lifted their ex­port bans af­ter ver­i­fy­ing that the com­part­ments that were sup­ply­ing them re­main free of the disease.

A fur­ther is­sue that we’re deal­ing with at present is the ques­tion of com­pen­sa­tion. DAFF, for per­fectly sen­si­ble rea­sons, didn’t bud­get for com­pen­sa­tion pay­ments to the poul­try in­dus­try in this bud­get cy­cle. That means they don’t have the money to pay com­pen­sa­tion and have been ask­ing Trea­sury for ac­cess to some emer­gency funds.

That is but one of the prob­lems. The equally im­por­tant ques­tion is what model of com­pen­sa­tion is to be used? Pro­duc­ers need to find it sen­si­ble to re­port out­breaks, not to hide them. This re­quires that com­pen­sa­tion deals with more than sim­ply the bird value, but also has to cover the con­se­quen­tial costs of an out­break. SAPA is work­ing closely with DAFF to try to find an am­i­ca­ble so­lu­tion. DAFF have ad­vised that they’ll be putting in a re­quest for com­pen­sa­tion to be added to their bud­get for next year. Hope­fully we won’t need to ac­cess the bud­get, although my bones tell me oth­er­wise.

SAPA or­gan­i­sa­tional mat­ters

As­tral Foods con­firmed their res­ig­na­tion from SAPA as at end July. This cre­ates fur­ther un­cer­tainty within the or­gan­i­sa­tion as we bat­tle to find the fund­ing we need to per­form the work that mem­bers ex­pect of us. The two sub­sidiary bod­ies that make up SAPA - namely the Egg Or­gan­i­sa­tion and the Broiler Or­gan­i­sa­tion - have re­cently suf­fered from re­duced mem­ber­ship, both within the smaller mem­ber and larger mem­ber cat­e­gories. While we re­main the largest voice of the lo­cal poul­try in­dus­try, we can no longer claim to rep­re­sent the ma­jor­ity of all pro­duc­ers as mem­bers. Rather, we rep­re­sent the ma­jor­ity of pro­duc­ers on se­lected is­sues alone, when such pro­duc­ers choose to align them­selves with the views of SAPA. Mem­ber­ship fees at SAPA are pro­por­tional to size, mean­ing the larger pro­duc­ers carry a greater share of the costs.

We thought we had em­barked on a jour­ney of trans­for­ma­tion that would al­low us to be a shin­ing light within the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, bring­ing small pro­duc­ers - most of whom are His­tor­i­cally Dis­ad­van­taged In­di­vid­u­als di­rectly into the value chain, rather than keep­ing them pro­duc­ing and or­gan­ised in par­al­lel to the ex­ist­ing large pro­duc­ers, not all of whom are white. The cur­rent large pro­duc­ers seem to be find­ing it dif­fi­cult to adapt their busi­ness mod­els, to a greater or lesser de­gree, to in­clude new en­trants who are gen­er­ally quite small into their busi­nesses. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been some suc­cess sto­ries the two sub-sec­tors can be proud of; rather, it means that a fun­da­men­tal shift in busi­ness model ap­proach has been hard to achieve. It should also be noted that our na­tional pol­icy in agri­cul­ture is at odds with the global trend of hav­ing fewer and larger pro­duc­ers sup­ply­ing the ma­jor­ity of the world’s food.

It is a mat­ter of de­bate as to what can be changed within the in­dus­try, although there’s an aware­ness that chang­ing the type, scale and sources of pro­duc­tion and open­ing up the mar­ket­ing chan­nels are av­enues worth ex­plor­ing. We cur­rently con­sider that it makes bet­ter sense for rea­sons of cap­i­tal al­lo­ca­tion, food safety and qual­ity con­trol to

have fewer larger abat­toirs, pro­cess­ing plants and egg grad­ing and pack­ag­ing plants than to have fur­ther small plants es­tab­lished.

We feel that gov­ern­ment has a strong role to play in as­sist­ing the two sub-sec­tors of the in­dus­try to face up to the prac­ti­cal re­al­i­ties that we face as a coun­try and as the poul­try in­dus­try in its to­tal­ity. To­gether we can chart our fu­ture path. I do hope a so­lu­tion can be found. For a range of rea­sons, meet­ings of the var­i­ous com­mit­tees are cur­rently be­ing post­poned as SAPA tries, once again, to ground it­self.

As­signee is­sues

SAPA or­gan­ised two pro­ducer ses­sions to pro­pose risk based al­ter­na­tives to the cur­rent as­signee model. It’s be­come clear that the fre­quency of vis­its pro­posed is aligned to the busi­ness model that the as­signee wants to ap­ply. This is not the ideal way to find the least cost op­tion. On the other hand, we can’t sim­ply say we want fewer vis­its with­out good rea­son. We’re in the process of try­ing to find such good rea­son and will then test that model with pro­duc­ers be­fore tak­ing it to DAFF and the as­signee for their re­view. The broiler pro­ducer ses­sion did take place, but the egg pro­ducer ses­sion had to be can­celled due to the poor con­fir­ma­tion of at­ten­dance.

Task team

Our July task team meet­ing had to be can­celled due to the non-avail­abil­ity of some the key par­ties. We’ll meet again in early Au­gust to con­tinue the work of the team. A water ef­fi­ciency meet­ing was held in July to look at ways var­i­ous state in­sti­tu­tions could as­sist us to re­duce our water use pro­file, es­pe­cially in the abat­toir en­vi­ron­ment. As a water-stressed coun­try, any new work that’ll al­low us to re­use water - or sim­ply use less water - is to be lauded. With the price of water rel­a­tively low, it’s easy not to think much about your water us­age pat­terns. Hope­fully the task team can be of as­sis­tance.


The EPA safe­guard de­ci­sion by ITAC will have been sent to Min­is­ter Davies by the time you read this let­ter. We made oral rep­re­sen­ta­tions to ITAC in early Au­gust, hope­fully ex­plain­ing our in­ter­pre­ta­tions in a clear and con­vinc­ing man­ner. The process from now on is fairly con­fi­den­tial, so we’ll likely not know what the progress is be­fore we read the Min­is­ter’s de­ci­sion in the Gov­ern­ment Gazette. Min­is­ter Davies will have to dis­cuss his in­ten­tions with the EU through a for­mal EPA struc­ture, and I’m sure there’ll be some hard bar­gain­ing be­hind closed doors. It looks as if a de­ci­sion can be ex­pected in Septem­ber.


BFAP pre­sented their an­nual base­line in early Au­gust. I find their work to be in­spir­ing, as this is all home-grown tal­ent pro­vid­ing a very nec­es­sary sce­nario plan­ning tool for agri­cul­ture in South Africa. I think all read­ers will find some­thing in their re­ports to be of use.

Re­gards for the last time and a very heart­felt good­bye, Kevin Lovell.¡

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