Chicken prices drop but still no bird flu vaccine for SA

The most devasting outbreak of avian influenza in recent years has finally seen a decline in infections and the price of poultry is already dropping. However, South African farmers are still awaiting the approval of the avian influenza vaccine.

Chicken prices drop but still no bird flu vaccine for SA
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The H7N6 strain of bird flu that spread through Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Free State last year sent poultry and egg prices soaring, and fears of a shortage loomed.

The new strain, alongside the more common H5N1 strain, led to the culling of more than eight million chickens in South Africa, resulting in billions of rands in lost revenue.

However, due to there not being a shortage of chicken from September through to December with supply meeting demand, prices are now going down, according to the South African Poultry Association’s broiler organisation general manager, Izaak Breitenbach.

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He said that in the build-up to December, prices increased by 5,4%, which he said was “quite low” and a normal phenomenon during the period from September to December.

“If you look at the prices now, the prices of chicken have dropped in January. We have had no shortage of chicken at all in the build-up from September to December. Therefore, this had no impact on the price of chicken.”

Speaking about the vaccine, Breitenbach said they were hopeful that the vaccine would be approved by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) by the end of February.

“The way forward is that we hope that the H7 vaccine will be approved by the end of February. One big company has already applied for the vaccine, and I think after February we will see a lot more companies applying.”

Abongile Balarane, SAPA’s general manager of its egg organisation, said the eventual approval of the H7 vaccine was anticipated to bring relief to the poultry industry, and farmers were hopeful that the availability of the vaccine would help mitigate the impact of avian influenza during the next winter season.

Meanwhile, the DA said they intended writing to President Cyril Ramaphosa to ask for his direct intervention on the “continued failure by DALRRD to roll out vaccines for avian flu”.

Noko Masipa, DA shadow minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, said while the DA acknowledged concerns by the DALRRD about the potential asymptomatic spread of the virus through vaccinated birds, it was their view that this could be effectively addressed through a balanced approach that utilised responsible vaccination alongside appropriate biosecurity measures and targeted surveillance.

“The DA calls on the government to prioritise the livelihoods of poultry farmers, ensure fair compensation for losses incurred due to culling, and expedite the approval of vaccination protocols. The industry’s need for urgent intervention to prevent further financial losses and safeguard the nation’s poultry production cannot be overstated,” Masipa said.