Ostrich Industry Continues to Feel Pressure of Avian Influenza Outbreak
Gerrit van Rensburg, Western Cape Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, is urging the National Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) to report back on alternative control measures for managing the current Avian Influenza outbreak in the ostrich industry.
Minister van Rensburg said that a meeting on 31 July between himself, DAFF and the ostrich industry committed itself to establish a task team which should have reported back in August with proposals for alternative measures, other than the blanket cull method currently being used. If birds test positive for the Avian Influenza virus, the entire flock is culled, in accordance with national as well international law and protocols.
Minister van Rensburg said that the focus is not on the resumption of meat exports any more, but on the survival of the South African ostrich industry. "In 1913, South Africa had 1 million ostriches; we currently have only 250 000 left. Ostriches can soon become a threatened species if we do not solve the problems surrounding Avian Influenza and the measures we use to manage it."
Minister van Rensburg said that more than 50 000 birds have been culled during the past 18 months, at a cost of more than R60 million to National Government, but without achieving the desired results of stamping out the virus. He said it is time to admit the current approach of blanket culling is not working and alternatives need to be investigated. The latest positive cases were reported in August in the Heidelberg area in the Southern Cape.
"We will kill the entire ostrich population, but the Avian Influenza virus could still be active in the wild bird population," Minister van Rensburg said. South Africa has not been able to export ostrich meat to the EU for the past 18 months, resulting in more than R1 billion in export losses. More than 40% of the producers have also left the ostrich industry, with huge job loss implications.
Possible alternatives to culling could include:
- Vaccination and quarantine measures, where infected birds are not killed, but also not made available for export. Birds recover from Avian Flu in the same manner humans recover from the common cold. It would be possible to develop a vaccine which would allow for the differentiation between a sick bird and a healthy vaccinated bird.
- South Africa can be divided into different zones. This would allow for virus-free zones to continue exports, while an infected zone manages and recovers from an outbreak. Currently the entire country is suffering due to an outbreak isolated and contained in the Klein Karoo and areas in the Southern Cape.
Minister van Rensburg said that he has written to Minister Joemat-Pettersson stating the urgency of this matter and the dire need for a quick response from the National Department. He said that DAFF's response to this crisis will have a material effect on the South African ostrich industry.