Compensate poultry farmers, says Astral

South Africa’s poultry farmers are losing millions because the government refuses to compensate them for healthy chickens they are forced to cull as part of the efforts to contain the spread of avian influenza.

Astral Foods, South Africa’s largest poultry producer, is leading the charge to get that policy reversed.

South Africa must be “the only country in the world where poultry producers are not compensated for forced culling”, Astral CEO Chris Schutte told an investor briefing after warning of the rapid spread of a new and more deadly strain of bird flu.

The company’s chief operating officer, Gary Arnold, said Astral had taken legal action and had managed to get some government compensation guidelines set aside. “It’s an ongoing matter that we are engaging with,” Business Report quoted him as telling the briefing.

Schutte said the refusal to compensate could lead some farmers to delay or not report a bird flu outbreak to avoid having to cull their flocks. This would build up the viral load and contribute to the further spread of the disease.

“Compensate people and we will control this. And if you don’t want to compensate me, allow me to vaccinate,” Schutte said.

Industry losses from the culling of both infected and “in-contact” healthy birds are substantial. For Astral, Schutte said the cost came to R220 million. Quantum, the country’s largest egg producer, said in a trading statement that it had so far culled nearly 2 million birds at cost of R106 million. Rainbow Chicken told Bloomberg that the bird flu outbreak had so far cost it about R100 million.

Izaak Breitenbach of the SA Poultry Association (SAPA) has explained that South Africa has a “stamp out” policy to control the spread of bird flu. This requires the culling of all chickens within a 3-kilometre radius of any outbreak.

South Africa, like other countries around the world, is working on a vaccination policy in an effort to avoid mass cullings of healthy chickens. Breitenbach said earlier this month that the first vaccinations could take place within months.