The last few weeks have been a dizzying time for the poultry industry in South Africa. It was a fast-moving news cycle that went from the first outbreaks of avian flu in May (which have become a seasonal menace), to the realisation that this was no ordinary outbreak.
It went from alarming predictions of food shortages, to actual food shortages, to mitigation techniques, to announcements about imports and vaccines.
National News about Avian Flu
The first news about an avian flu outbreak came in late May.
By September there were warnings of looming food shortages amid alarming news as the numbers of culled chickens climbed into the millions.
By end September the epidemic had become a fully-blown crisis.
Producers began to count the cost of the epidemic, piled on loadshedding, that was shredding their operations.
The discussion now is how to assure food security in both the short and long term, with urgent calls for a change in policies, speeded-up vaccination campaigns, and food rationing.
Apart from the economic cost (with producers predicting losses that might push them over the edge), there is also the human cost. Workers and vets are reeling from the methods used to combat the outbreak, to the extent that some producers are considering compensation.
Price spikes and food shortages dominated the news for weeks.
The US, a significant exporter to South Africa, is cutting back on production, which might constrain chicken imports in SA and push prices up here.
Avian Flu Barometer
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Imports & Exports
At the beginning of October, the Department of Trade and Industry announced that it was considering rebates on poultry imports to meet the demand for chicken and eggs.
This news was announced at the same time that Namibia banned imports from South Africa.
The South African government put the poultry industry on high alert, urging producers and farmers to increase their bio-security.
Additionally, another measure was to look at the importation of fertilised eggs to build up the flocks of laying hens as fast as possible
Support Industry News
According to Bloomberg News, the long-term solution to the avian flu outbreak is a veterinary one, with an acceleration of vaccines. Given the lightning-fast spread of the disease, this does seem to be the only option.
The good news was the two vaccines could arrive within months.
There were calls for the industry to be assisted, with free access to vaccinations and perhaps compensation for the large-scale culling.