What can South Africa learn from the 2023 bird flu crisis?

FairPlay hosted a webinar on 15 May to discuss the 2023 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak. The discussion between FairPlay, state veterinarians, and journalists identified several critical steps that need to be taken to protect the industry against the impact of further outbreaks.

Read the takeaways below, or watch the video on Youtube.

South Africa has a critical shortage of state vets

Despite government’s best efforts, there is a severe shortage of veterinarians, and veterinary resources. This has not only caused delays in creating a vaccination roadmap for willing producers, but the shortage also means that many producers are burdened with additional costs. More state-employed veterinarians may ease the congestion in developing a vaccination programme. Furthermore, it may address the additional inspection requirements for those seeking to export their products. South Africa needs more veterinarians.

The country’s biosecurity requirements are complicated and not 100% effective

Biosecurity and monitoring requirements (for bird flu vaccinations and culling exemptions) are overly complicated and burdensome. More effective and practical solutions are needed to lower the barriers to compliance – it is this complexity that may force some producers and small farmers to act in contravention to the Animal Diseases statutes.

A lack of culling compensation threatens the industry

The South African Government currently subscribes to a “stamp-out” policy – if an infected bird is detected, the entire infected flock is destroyed, and the poultry houses cleaned and sterilised at significant cost to the producer. Poultry producers may apply for compensation, but currently no such compensation is being paid, nor is there money to compensate farmers for culling their flock.

This lack of compensation could lead to producers choosing not to cull surviving birds, which poses a significant risk to other flocks around the country. The practice of culling without compensation is devastating, particularly to small farmers, as they cannot sell their products, and there is no insurance to replace lost flocks; a double-dip loss. The additional costs of cleaning and sterilising chicken houses and equipment are also not factored in.

During the course of the 2023 outbreaks, producers had to cull over 9.5 million infected birds. This resulted in financial losses of over R9.5 billion for the industry. Compensating farmers for culling is critical to the sustainability of the industry.

We would like to thank the following panellists for joining us:

Dr Adri Grobler
Chief State Veterinarian at Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Dr Ziyanda Majokweni–Qwalela
Deputy Director of Epidemiology, Biosecurity and Laboratory Diagnostics at Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Dr Alan Kalake
Director of Epidemiology with the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Mr Izaak Breitenbach
General Manager of the SA Poultry Association’s broiler board.