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200 000 chickens culled in Western Cape as province tackles bird flu

| Supplier news

More than 200 000 chickens have died or been culled in the Western Cape as a result of an outbreak of bird flu, leading to over 100 job losses, according to Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde.

Winde, whose portfolio includes agriculture, and state veterinarians provided an update on the effects of highly pathogenic avian influenza, of the strain H5N8, in Cape Town on Thursday. 

This is the first time that a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu has been detected in poultry in South Africa. 

There are an estimated 29 million commercially farmed chickens in the province, and 185 000 “backyard” birds.

Winde said 17 cases have been confirmed in the province since August 9, including eight among commercial ostrich farmers, two at commercial chicken farms, one at a duck farm and seven among wild birds. 

He added that poultry products from grocery stores were safe to eat. 

The strain of bird flu has also been detected in other provinces, including Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the North West.  

As a result of the outbreak, 46 ostrich farms have been placed under quarantine and cannot sell or transport their birds. 

Winde said the provincial government was focused on stopping the spread of the outbreak, particularly among poultry farmers. 

“It has huge implications to a big industry that supplies the country, and this province, with a big component of its protein intake, whether it be in chicken or in eggs,” he said. 

He said the outbreak has already lead to job losses, as every time poultry culling takes place agricultural jobs were directly affected. 

“It has a huge implication for jobs and the economy’. 

No human infections 

Dr Aileen Pypers, a state veterinarian for the Boland, confirmed there have been no reports of humans falling ill due to this strain of bird flu. 

“We still have to be careful, however,’ she said.

She said poultry farmers may be “a little bit unprepared” for the outbreak. 

“Many of the farms have got contingency plans in place, but many of them have also been caught unawares,” she said.

“Although we are equally concerned about the poultry and the ostrich industries, the reason that we are so concerned now is that this is the first time that the poultry industry has to deal with this.” 

Pypers said the ostrich industry was better positioned to combat the outbreak, as highly pathogenic avian influenza had previously been detected among commercial ostriches

As a result, ostrich farmers had already improved their “biosecurity” measures. 

These measures include keeping poultry or ostriches away from wild birds, and disinfecting vehicles, hands and clothing after handling dead birds.

Farmers must also make sure that no spilled feed is lying about to attract wild birds, as it is thought that wild birds transmit the virus.  
Meanwhile, Winde said he was in discussions with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) about paying compensation to farmers who have had to cull their birds. 

The DAFF is responsible for determining what compensation, if any, will be paid out.

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