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Culling compensation is important to contain bird flu

Media statement

The government’s decision not to compensate poultry farmers for most of the chickens culled during bird flu outbreaks is short-sighted and will hamper control in future outbreaks.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) is compensating for sick birds culled, but not the millions more culled by official directive because they had been in contact with or near infected birds. A news report has put the value of culled birds at R1.5 billion.

Compensation is recognised internationally as an important control mechanism during bird flu outbreaks, because it encourages reporting of infections and enables swift responses to contain and eradicate the disease. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) says compensation schemes are “a key incentive to support early detection” of bird flu.

The converse, unfortunately, is also true. Farmers who know they are going to have to kill some of all of their flocks if they report an outbreak, and face financial ruin because of a lack of compensation, will be tempted to keep quiet. That will slow down containment efforts and enable the disease to spread.

A reported statement by the director of animal health at DALRRD, Mpho Maja, states that “Animal Health will not offer incentive agreements in the foreseeable future for the destruction of healthy but at-risk commercial chickens.”

If this is correct, it is not in the broader interests of poultry farmers, consumers or the country. Containing bird flu outbreaks requires quick and concerted action. This in turn helps ensure national food security through the continued production of chicken, which is the main source of protein for much of the population.

The government’s attitude on compensation will discourage existing poultry farmers and is a massive disincentive to aspirant broiler or egg farmers. Government and the poultry industry are encouraging new entrants in terms of the transformation objectives of the poultry master plan. Knowing they will be at risk in a future bird flu outbreak may cause them to take their talents to other industries.

There was little to no compensation in the 2017 bird flu outbreak, and this is set to be repeated in the current wave of infections, which is not yet over.

Government should be helping poultry farmers, not shutting them down. When culling is ordered by government-appointed veterinarians, there should be government compensation. FairPlay appreciates that money is tight in all departments but, in the national interest, the government should reconsider its stance on culling compensation.

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