Avian flu: Poultry industry hustling to save exports

While three countries neighbouring South Africa have already implemented bans on poultry imports from Mzansi over recent Avian flu outbreaks, Mozambique is rumoured to consider implementing a total ban on poultry products and Eswatini is considering the same action

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South Africa’s poultry industry is currently working hard to safeguard trade relations with five neighbouring countries following breakouts of avian influenza that caused trade partners to restrict their imports of chicken products from Mzansi.

More countries have followed Botswana’s move to ban poultry products from Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) affected areas, after commercial chicken farms in Ekurhuleni in Gauteng and Potchefstroom in the North West reported outbreaks.

The most recent outbreak, in Potchefstroom, saw another property being placed under quarantine. 14 000 broiler breeders are reported to have been culled.

Now Lesotho and Namibia have also joined the list of countries to ban poultry products from South Africa and Mozambique and Eswatini are said to be considering similar bans.

Avian flu
Colin Steenhuisen, interim egg board general manager at the South Africa Poultry Association. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

However, according to Colin Steenhuisen, interim egg board general manager at the South Africa Poultry Association (SAPA), communication channels are open between SAPA and the departments of animal health (within the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development) and trade and industry on the one hand, and concerned countries on the other.

“We are doing all we can to keep our trading partners properly informed,” Steenhuisen says.

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“We are not leaving anyone in the dark. We are keeping them fully and correctly informed as to exactly what is going on, as we are obligated to do. If we don’t, it will completely destroy SA’s credibility.”

SAPA says it is not clear what strain of the disease caused the avian flu outbreak in Potchefstroom. However, the organisation has assured farmers, trading partners and the media that once they know, a media release containing detail will be issued.

Botswana reduces ban restrictions

Earlier this month (April 2021), after conclusive testing at Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, a commercial farm on the East Rand of Johannesburg was quarantined after an outbreak of avian influenza was confirmed.

READ: Avian influenza rocks Gauteng poultry farm

Botswana subsequently issued a ban of all poultry products, eggs, broilers and feathers from South Africa.  

However, Food For Mzansi can confirm that Botswana has since downscaled its ban to only include the two affected compartments in the East Rand and Potchefstroom.

“Botswana have now banned sales from those two compartments, but the rest of the country, which is avian influenza free, can still export poultry products to Botswana.”

“It’s rather pleasant to find that Botswana has reduced the restrictions as much as they have and as quickly as they have,” Steenhuisen notes.

Namibia, he explains, never banned poultry products from the entire country. They only ever banned the compartment in the East Rand.

Lesotho has banned eggs originating only from Gauteng. 

ALSO READ: Avian influenza: Botswana bans Mzansi poultry imports

The point that needs to be made, Steenhuisen says, is that anywhere in the world, avian flu is a notifiable disease that must be reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). The intergovernmental organisation is responsible for improving animal health worldwide.

Steenhuisen says the OIE receives notifications from the South African department of agriculture about HPAI found in South Africa. From there, OIE sends out an immediate alert notification to the rest of the world.

“It’s standard protocol. Every country is obligated to do it and that’s what (South Africa) did. Countries surrounding us or anywhere else in the world have the right to protect their own poultry industry by banning products from a country that reported a notifiable disease,” Steenhuisen explains.

Opening the borders for trade   

Meanwhile, Reggie Ngcobo, spokesperson for the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development tells Food For Mzansi that the department continues to urge farmers to observe all biosecurity and biosafety measures as always.

“We are constantly updating the trade partners. We have compartments with high biosecurity measures and are testing for avian influenza on a monthly basis. Affected farms have been put under quarantine,” he says.

Avian flu
Reggie Ngcobo, spokesperson for minister of agriculture, rural development and land reform, Thoko Didiza. Photo: Facebook

Steenhuisen meanwhile says they are very hopeful that they can clear the outbreak. After such time, there is a predetermined period of 21 days during which the industry will reconsider opening the borders for trade again.

“All of these countries are reliant on South Africa for food,” Steenhuisen states.

“Botswana imports thousands of tonnes of poultry meat and fertile eggs. Mozambique imports thousands of tonnes of broiler meat and table eggs, while Eswatini imports eggs from us when they are short. Lesotho and Namibia are also importing large numbers of eggs from us.” 

Mozambique is rumoured to have implemented a total ban on poultry products. However, Steenhuisen emphasises that he has not seen an official notice from the country.

Food For Mzansi understands that discussions between Eswatini and the department of animal health have already been set in motion on the country’s position on banning poultry products.

ALSO READ: Avian flu outbreak: 5 tips to save your poultry business

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