Bird Flu Crisis in Southern Africa Sparks Concerns of Rising Chicken and Egg Prices

Harare — South African consumers will have to endure higher prices for chicken meat and eggs as the industry deals with its worst highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) epidemic to date, according to economists and industry insiders.

Although the full extent of the projected price shocks is still unknown, SA Poultry Association (Sapa) general manager Izaak Breitenbach told Moneyweb that shortages may persist well into the holiday season as the industry strives to regain control of the situation.

“We are already witnessing shortages of commercial table eggs in the market, and this will exert upward pressure on the price of table eggs,” Breitenbach said.

The industry also expects a significant increase in its reliance on imported chicken, with overall imports set to rise before December.

The substantial fuel price hikes in September have further compounded the industry’s pricing dynamics, especially considering the ongoing issue of rolling blackouts.

Several factors contribute to the spread of the disease, including high population density in the inland area and a more contagious variant of the virus. Breitenbach noted that, compared to regions like the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, the greater density of chickens inland leads to faster spread between farms.

During an avian influenza outbreak, farmers are required to cull all hens and dispose of any eggs. The same applies to farms within a 3km radius of the initial infection site. This measure has helped in the past by halting the spread of the disease and reducing its impact. According to Sapa, the first bird flu outbreak in 2017 resulted in the culling of 2.7 million birds, while the second outbreak in 2021 led to the culling of 3 million.

In September, all JSE-listed chicken producers issued warnings about the severity of the latest outbreak. As a result, neighboring Namibia has suspended the importation of live poultry, birds, and poultry products from South Africa. The suspension remains in effect until further notice, as stated by the Namibian agriculture ministry.

The avian flu outbreaks, which began in late May 2023, have claimed nearly a quarter of South Africa’s poultry, with layer farms facing the greatest impact, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health.

To prevent further losses of chicken stock, the government has urged farmers to enhance biosecurity measures and has expedited the use of vaccines. These measures offer hope for mitigating the potential impact of the egg and chicken price hike.

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