Bird flu hits egg farmers with huge costs

Bird flu outbreaks in South Africa this year have resulted in a record number of cullings at poultry farms, and have started to cause egg shortages in some centres.

Farmer’s Weekly reports that more than 25 outbreaks of bird flu have been recorded so far this year, resulting in the culling of more than four million chickens. This already exceeds the three million culled the previous year and makes 2023 the country’s worst in terms of industry losses due to bird flu.

Most of the outbreaks have been at egg-producing farms. This has cost egg farmers more than R2 billion, according to Dr Abongile Balarane, head of the layer organisation at the SA Poultry Association (SAPA).

Both Balarane and the head of SAPA’s broiler organisation, Izaak Breitenbach, have pointed out that, unlike other countries, the South African government pays no compensation for the millions of healthy birds that have to be culled to contain an outbreak. This adds to the cost burden of an industry already suffering because of electricity outages and higher feed costs.

The poultry industry is in discussion with the government about the possible use of bird flu vaccines to control the disease without the need for mass cullings.

A new development is egg shortages in some South African cities. The Daily Maverick reported that major retail groups are warning customers that bird flu is reducing the provision of eggs from suppliers. In addition to shortages, egg prices are likely to rise, the publication said.

In an interview with Radio 702, Dr Balarane assured consumers that eggs for sale in the shops were safe.

As soon as bird flu is detected on a farm, health regulations require that all eggs on the farm be destroyed, all chickens be culled and all feed on the farm also be destroyed, he said.