Bird flu alert after Western Cape outbreaks

Outbreaks of avian influenza (bird flu) at two egg-producing poultry farms in the Western Cape may be an unwelcome harbinger of worse to come.

Despite the worst global outbreak of the disease, South Africa has been relatively free of bird flu in recent months, and the Western Cape has not seen the virus in commercial poultry since early last year.

Now outbreaks on two layer farms in the Paardeberg area, north of Paarl in the Western Cape have resulted in the culling of 120 000 birds. The Western Cape is a significant egg producing area and layer farms suffered badly in the previous bird flu outbreak.

The poultry industry will be on high alert, not only in the Western Cape, but nationwide. South Africa is entering the winter months when the virus is most prevalent. Farmers could face huge losses because, unlike other countries, the government does not pay compensation for healthy birds ordered to be culled to prevent the spread of the disease.

In 2021 and 2022, nearly 3.8 million chickens were culled because of bird flu outbreaks. Most (2.9 million) were on layer farms, while 858 000 broiler birds were culled.

In an interview with the TV station Newzroom Afrika, Dr Mpho Maja, Director of Animal Health at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, stressed that the outbreak was limited and there was at this stage no need to panic.

“It’s not a crisis and I do not anticipate that it will affect food prices,” she said. She emphasised  the need for poultry farmers to take all necessary precautions and ensure that biosecurity measures were adhered to.