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Bird flu compensation is key to containing the disease

South Africa has acted swiftly and efficiently to control and eliminate avian influenza (bird flu) outbreaks, but the country appears to be out of line with international best practice on the issue of compensation for birds culled.

Bird flu outbreaks result in the compulsory culling of millions of chickens, many of them healthy birds that have been near or in contact with infected ones. This is a necessary measure to contain the disease and prevent it spreading, but it can result in financial disaster for farmers when some or all of their flocks have to be destroyed.

In the 2017 outbreak in South Africa, more than 2 million chickens were culled, and the total so far this year is nearly 2.7 million birds culled in the broiler and egg industries. This is less than 2% of the national flock, but it’s a sizeable number for many individual farmers, including new entrants to the poultry business.

The economic impact is massive. In 2018 the SA Poultry Association told parliament that the bird flu losses to farmers were R307 million for the value of the birds, and R954 million in income foregone. That’s a total loss R1.26 billion.

Around the world, various compensation schemes are in effect, both to support farmers who have suffered a financial blow, and to encourage reporting of outbreaks so that speedy control measures can be put in place. Even though reporting is required by law, if there is no compensation a farmer may hesitate before making the call that will result in ruin for himself and his family.

Compensation schemes are encouraged by the World Organisation for Animal Health, OIE, because they are “a key incentive to support early detection” of bird flu.

After the 2017 outbreak in South Africa, very little compensation was paid. This year, with multiple demands on government finances, the attitude is that compensation will only be paid for sick birds that are culled, not the millions of healthy ones culled on official instruction.

The current outbreak is still raging, and it won’t be the last. Containing them is in everyone’s interests – government, poultry farmers and consumers. Adequate compensation is a key element in the battle against bird flu, and an essential lifeline for affected farmers.

Negotiations are continuing, and the dispute may yet end up in court. FairPlay hopes that common sense prevails.

Image: A CDC scientist harvesting the H7N9 virus for research purposes. Image courtesy of the CDC.