SOUTH AFRICA – One of South Africa’s largest food producers RCL Foods on Wednesday said that it had suffered R26m (US$1.96m) in losses from culling chickens due to an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza.
“(Avian influenza) has recently been detected at the company’s Heuningdal breeder farm in the Western Cape, situated between Malmesbury and Darling, after also having experienced a small outbreak at our Viva breeder farm near Muldersdrift in Gauteng,” it said in a statement.
RCL Foods said poultry at both sites had been culled, with a loss amounting to approximately 5% of the company’s total breeder stock.
“The company is evaluating all opportunities to minimise the possible impact of this reduced volume,” it said in a statement. “Avian influenza is not known to affect humans, so there is no concern from a chicken consumption perspective.”
The food group manufactures a wide range of branded and private label food products, including chicken products via its Rainbow and Farmer Brown brands. It employs 20 000 people in South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia.
At a media briefing earlier this month Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde said that highly pathogenic avian influenza of the strain H5N8 was first detected in the Western Cape on August 9.
The strain of bird flu has also been identified in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the North West.
Winde said that, as of September 7, over 200 000 chickens had been culled in the Western Cape and 46 ostrich farms placed under quarantine.
He warned that the outbreak would affect both consumers and farmers. “It has huge implications to a big industry that supplies the country, and this province, with a big component [being consumers’] protein intake, whether it be in chicken or in eggs.”
Winde added that poultry products from grocery stores were safe to eat, and urged chicken farmers to set in place measures to help stop the spread of the disease.
RCL Foods on Wednesday said that it would implement the “strictest possible biosecurity measures” to safeguard the health of its flocks, saying it was “working closely with government and other authorities in this regard”.