SOUTH AFRICA South Africa’s government is actively considering a range of trade measures and vaccination strategies to alleviate the ongoing shortages of poultry products and mitigate the spread of avian flu within the country.

Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza recently announced plans to streamline the issuance of import permits for egg products, signaling a commitment to address the supply chain disruptions caused by the avian flu outbreak.

Simultaneously, Didiza and Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel are exploring various trade instruments to facilitate the supply of chicken meat.

The highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak, primarily concentrated in northern regions of the country, has already resulted in egg shortages, leaving supermarket shelves bare in cities like Johannesburg.

Concerns are also rising about potential price hikes for chicken, a critical source of animal protein for many South Africans.

As part of containment efforts, farmers are being compelled to cull birds to limit the disease’s spread, leading to losses for JSE-listed chicken and egg producers.

To protect the local poultry industry, Minister Patel reinstated anti-dumping duties on bone-in chicken portions from several countries, including Brazil, Ireland, Poland, Spain, and Denmark, in August.

However, calls from various groups, including the opposition Democratic Alliance, have urged the government to temporarily suspend tariffs on chicken imports.

This temporary measure is proposed to address the anticipated supply gap and protect consumers from rising poultry product prices.

Regarding the trade instruments under consideration, the Trade Department’s spokesman, Bongani Lukhele, deferred inquiries to the Agriculture Department.

Reggie Ngcobo, the Agriculture Department’s spokesman, noted that details would be confirmed once the ministers complete their assessment and consult with industry stakeholders.

In addition to trade measures, Minister Didiza is exploring the possibility of vaccination and reviewing applications from different suppliers.

The South African Veterinarian Association has stressed the critical nature of the avian flu outbreak, characterizing it as an “existential crisis” for the poultry industry. The association has urged the government to permit the immediate importation of vaccines targeting the H7 and H5 influenza viruses.

While precise figures are challenging to ascertain, reports from poultry producers and veterinarians indicate that up to 30% of the country’s commercial layers and 25% of the broiler breeding stock have been affected by the avian flu outbreak.

“All the efforts by the industry and government to contain the disease have been ineffective. The only option is to vaccinate with an effective vaccine,” Wilhelm Maré, chairperson of the association’s Poultry Group, emphasized.