18 October 2017

South Africa: Government Exploring Solutions to Avian Influenza Outbreak

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana says the department is engaging the poultry industry to find ways to tackle the avian influenza outbreak.

The Minister was in Parliament on Tuesday when the Economics Cluster Ministers fielded oral questions in the National Council of Provinces.

The H6N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza originates in China and has been spread mainly by wild birds.

The Minister said when the department became aware of the outbreak in one of the neighbouring countries, it warned farmers not to feed their chickens more food because it attracts wild birds.

Farmers were urged to ensure other birds were not able to mingle with chicks.

"But this unfortunately has been attacking mostly our commercial farmers - both laying hens and broilers. We have had a meeting with our stakeholders to look at different avenues [where] we can assist each other but unfortunately the spread has been ongoing," he said.

The Minister was responding to a question from NCOP member Emmanuel Mlambo. He had asked if the department had any plans or mitigation strategies to curb the current avian influenza outbreak, which was threatening the South African poultry industry and jobs.

Minister Zokwana said after several engagements with industry players, a number of suggestions have been made to counter the outbreak.

"A number of suggestions have been made, like coming up with protocols that should be taken to ensure that we are able to eradicate the disease and also to look at the issue of compensation and we have come up with the formula of how people should apply to the department."

He said a company had suggested vaccinating chickens so they are able to live with the virus. However, they were worried the market might not be keen to buy these chickens. "But we have not said out of hand that we cannot do that," he said.

The Minister said the department has for now left the suggestion to experts for consideration.

Another suggestion has been to import fertilised eggs from countries that do not have the virus to keep the industry going.

"We feel for the industry. We feel for the employees. We believe that this spread of the disease may even culminate in the fact that we don't have enough chicken and the prices may [be impacted].

"As a department, we are concerned but consistently we do meet with our stakeholders. We do engage them and we do listen to suggestions that come up.

"We are concerned about the sector and we will do everything to ensure that it remains a vibrant sector of our economy."

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