SOUTH AFRICA – As South Africa is grappling with its most severe avian influenza outbreak in recent history, major retailers like Woolworths and Pick n Pay are imposing restrictions on egg purchases in an effort to ensure a consistent supply.

However, Shoprite has stated it has no immediate plans to implement such measures.

“Due to the shortage of eggs caused by the avian flu, we need to prioritize the use of available whole eggs that meet our standards of food safety and quality for Woolies products made with eggs,” Woolworths noted.

“As a temporary measure, we, therefore, have to limit whole egg purchases to 1 pack of 6 eggs per customer. We are working with our farmers to ensure regular supply returns as soon as possible.”

This temporary restriction of six eggs per person is aimed to remain in effect until further notice, except in cases where the store still has stocks of 18 or 36 egg packs, which are rapidly depleting.

Meanwhile, the avian flu outbreak is expected to have a significant impact on the prices of chicken and eggs in South Africa.

To address the current shortage of broiler chickens, South Africa may need to import millions of fertilized eggs, and the poultry industry anticipates a substantial increase in chicken imports leading up to December.

While the more dangerous H7 avian flu outbreaks are primarily concentrated in Limpopo, the North West, the Free State, and Mpumalanga, the H5 strain is predominant in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

H7-infected hens take longer to show symptoms, leading to extended periods of infection and increased virus transmission to other flocks.

The extent of the expected price increases remains uncertain, but Izaak Breitenbach, the General Manager of the SA Poultry Association (Sapa), warned that shortages may persist well into the holiday season as the industry works to gain control over the situation.

Breitenbach emphasized that there are already shortages of commercial table eggs in the market, which will likely drive up the price of eggs.

In the event of an avian flu outbreak, farmers are required to cull all hens and dispose of any eggs. This measure, including farms located within 3 kilometers of the initial infection site, has historically helped contain the spread of the disease and minimize its impact.

According to Sapa, the first avian 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 birds.

Since the avian flu outbreaks began in May 2023, nearly a quarter of South Africa’s poultry has been lost, with layer farms bearing the brunt of the impact, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health.