Harare — South African consumers will have to put up with higher chicken meat and egg prices as the industry confronts its worst highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) epidemic to date, according to economists and industry insiders.
Although the extent of the projected price shocks is yet unknown, SA Poultry Association (Sapa) general manager Izaak Breitenbach told Moneyweb said that shortages might linger far into the holiday season as the industry works to gain control of the situation.
"We are already seeing shortages in commercial table eggs in the marketplace and that will put upwards pressure on the price of table eggs," Breitenbach said.
The industry also anticipates a major increase in its reliance on imported chicken, with overall imports rising significantly before December.
Massive fuel price increases in September added yet another layer to the industry's price dynamics, particularly since rolling blackouts continue to be a problem.
Some of the variables influencing the spread of the disease include high populations in the inland area and a more sneaky variant of the virus. In comparison to places like the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, Breitenbach said the higher density of chickens inland means cates that the spread between farms occurs more quickly than in other areas.
When there is an avian influenza outbreak, farmers must to slaughter all hens and destroy any eggs. The same goes for farms 3km away from the initial infection site. This helped farmers in the past by stopping the spread of disease and reducing its effects. According to Sapa, the first bird flu outbreak in 2017 resulted in the culling of 2.7 million birds, while the second outbreak in 2021 resulted in the culling of 3 million.
In September, all JSE-listed chicken producers issued a warning about the severity of the latest outbreak. As a result of the HPAI outbreak in South Africa, neigbouring Namibia stopped the importation of live poultry, birds, and poultry products from South Africa. The suspension is in place until further notice, according to a statement issued by their agriculture ministry.
Outbreaks of the avian flu, which started towards the end of May 2023, killed nearly a quarter of South Africa's poultry, with layer farms being the hardest hit, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health.
To stop further losses of chicken stock, the government urged farmers to step up biosecurity precautions, and has accelerated the use of vaccines. There is hope that putting these measures in place may lessen the potential impact of the egg and chicken price hike.