The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has been working closely with several role players to control the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak in the country.
The department said it is working on finding the best means to protect consumers and support poultry farmers.
Since the first case of HPAI was confirmed in a broiler breeder operation near Villiers, Mpumalanga, in June, a number of other poultry and ostrich operations, as well as wild bird species, hobby birds and backyard chickens have subsequently been infected with the virus.
To date, a total of 92 locations have been identified that tested positive for HPAI H5N8, and reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
The department in collaboration with the poultry industry is investigating how a vaccination strategy could be incorporated as a control measure for specific groups of birds on farms.
“Inputs of vaccine manufacturers and international experts have been taken into account. This measure might decrease the effects of the HPAI outbreak on the short term but might have a negative effect on trade,” the department said.
An exit strategy to withdraw vaccination once the threat of HPAI is passed is also under discussion.
“The movement of live commercial chickens from HPAI affected properties is not allowed and this is controlled and enforced by the Provincial Veterinary Services. This has been effective in preventing the spread of the disease directly from one HPAI affected property to another,” the department said.
To date, none of the outbreaks could be directly linked to the movement of live birds from an affected farm.
“A system was introduced to allow for movement of healthy live chickens for purposes other than for slaughter. Provincial Veterinary Services issued health attestations for small scale farmers and distributors of live chickens and the Poultry Disease Management Agency (PDMA) was authorised by the department to register and keep records of all parties selling and buying live chickens,” the department said.
This has so far been effective to prevent the spread of the disease to small scale farmers and backyard breeders on a large scale.
The department is also working closely with the industry to promote ongoing food security through the importation of fertile broiler hatching eggs.
This will address the shortage in the market, while at the same time ensuring that such imports are allowed in a safe manner so as not to jeopardise the health status of the national poultry flock.
“The Department and Industry task team has finalised the protocol and this will then be negotiated with trade partners who are already trading with South Africa and recognised as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza free,” the department said.
Guidelines to clearly explain and outline the principles regarding compensation of farmers on farms affected by HPAI in terms of the Animal Diseases Act, 1984 (Act No 35 of 1984) are in the process of being drafted.
“It is important to note that compensation is at the discretion of the Minister and only payable for losses suffered due to the destruction of healthy birds and eggs in an effort to eradicate the disease. Compensation in terms of the Animal Diseases Act is not a farmer support initiative and therefore should not be confused with such initiatives,” the department said.