South Africa is grappling with a severe avian influenza crisis, prompting the culling of 7.5 million chickens in a desperate bid to contain outbreaks. The government, in collaboration with the national poultry association, has taken drastic measures to address the threat posed by two distinct strains of bird flu. With over 205,000 chickens already lost in 60 separate outbreaks, the situation is particularly dire in Gauteng province, home to major cities Johannesburg and Pretoria.
This widespread culling, affecting both meat and egg-laying chickens, accounts for 20-30% of the country’s total chicken stock, resulting in supply constraints. Grocery stores in Johannesburg are now rationing egg purchases due to the looming shortage. The South African government acknowledges the gravity of the situation, with Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza fast-tracking import permits for eggs to meet consumer demand.
Neighboring Namibia has already imposed a ban on chicken meat and egg imports from South Africa. The poultry industry, already reeling from an electricity crisis, is facing losses of at least $25 million. This marks the third major bird flu outbreak in recent years, but the current crisis is deemed the most severe. The South African Veterinary Association warns that up to 8.5 million egg-laying chickens and over 10 million birds in total could be affected.
To address the escalating crisis, the government is considering a vaccination program, but importing vaccines and implementing them may take two to six months. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes a global rise in bird flu outbreaks, emphasizing the urgency of the situation. With eggs being a crucial and affordable protein source in South Africa, the shortages are expected to exacerbate already high food inflation.
This poultry industry setback follows earlier challenges, including power shortages leading to record blackouts and the culling of nearly 10 million young chicks in January. The industry has also been lobbying for permanent duties on countries like Brazil, Denmark, Poland, Spain, and the United States, alleging the “dumping” of cheap chicken products, which poses a threat to local businesses. The cumulative impact paints a bleak picture for South Africa’s poultry sector, facing multifaceted challenges that could have long-lasting repercussions.