FairPlay hits at “Orwellian” refusal to pay culling compensation

FairPlay has hit out at the South African government’s continued refusal to compensate poultry farmers for chickens culled during bird flu outbreaks.

In an interview with News24, FairPlay founder Francois Baird said it was “nonsensical, Orwellian and Catch-22” for the government to encourage compensation claims, knowing in advance that there would be no payments.

In successive outbreaks of bird flu in South Africa since 2017, state veterinarians have ordered the culling of millions of chickens to help curb the spread of the virus. However, unlike other countries, South Africa refuses to pay compensation to these farmers. Losses in 2023 – the worst year yet – are estimated at R9 billion.

Despite the refusal, the government recently published details of how poultry famers can apply for compensation – without saying that the compensation will be zero because they regard birds inflected or in contact with bird flu as having no value.

FairPlay founder Francois Baird described the situation as “nonsensical” and called for a revision of government policy on culling compensation.  He said there should be financial support for local poultry producers who abided by the law and culled their chickens according to state directives.

He called for an end to the current “Orwellian formula” of encouraging claims but fixing the compensation in advance at zero.

“You have to cull your chickens if there is bird flu around but since you culled your chickens, they now have no value, so we don’t have to pay you. It’s literally the chicken and egg argument.”

Baird said that, while large producers suffered losses, but survived, the refusal to pay compensation was pushing small-scale farmers to the brink of collapse.

News24 approached the government for comment, without success. Reggie Ngcobo, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development said the department is “not at liberty to divulge any further information since these matters are before courts, making these matters sub judice”.

Astral Foods, SA’s largest poultry producer, confirmed it had a case regarding poultry compensation.

Remgro-controlled RCL Foods told News24 that its Rainbow Chicken business is also engaged in litigation against the department. This arose from an application by the company for compensation in terms of the Animal Diseases Control Act after culling chickens and destroying eggs in 2017 to comply with measures implemented to control avian influenza. 

RCL noted that the director of animal health had determined the “compensation value at zero rands” because the birds and eggs, according to the director, were “infected and had no value”.

RCL said its case is separate from the one brought by Astral.