Chicken and egg crisis set to deepen in South Africa: report

 ·22 Oct 2023

About 12% of the country’s chicken industry is under quarantine, and losses are estimated at R4.8 billion due to the outbreak of avian flu so far.

If the government doesn’t step in to assist farmers now, economists and stakeholders say South Africa’s food security is at risk, as prices of meat and eggs are set to rise while shortages are expected to worsen.

This is according to City Press, which reported that farmers are at breaking point with no support while fighting the spread of the bird flu, which risks the whole chicken industry in South Africa.

South Africa is currently experiencing a shortage of poultry and eggs due to an outbreak of the H7 bird flu, resulting in producers culling large percentages of their birds. On top of the massive impact of load shedding this year, producers have suffered staggering losses.

Along with this, there are now warnings that prices could escalate further as the shortage sets in.

One of the key remedies to the situation will be imports, but this is highly dependent on the price point and the government’s policies on anti-dumping, which prevent cheaper meat from being brought in by raising duties on cuts below ‘fair’ market value.

A suspension on anti-dumping tariffs for chicken ended in August, which came with its own warnings about higher shelf prices. A new rebate on these tariffs is being considered to encourage imports to alleviate the current shortages.

In a media statement earlier this month, the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) said it was working with the Department of Agriculture and other stakeholders in the industry to address the shortages.

“Shortages of eggs may be experienced, but SAPA is monitoring the situation closely and will continue engaging with the Department of Agriculture, land reform, rural development, and other relevant stakeholders for regular updates,” it said.

The situation has taken a turn for the worse.

According to Izaak Breitenbach, head of the broiler section of the SAPA, about 5 million of the country’s approximately 25 million commercial laying hens and almost 2.5 million of the nearly 8 million broiler breeder chickens have died of the disease since the beginning of this year or have been culled in terms of the guidelines.

That amounts to 20% of the country’s laying hens and 30% of the breeding chickens having been culled, while 108 farms, or 12% of the chicken industry, are under quarantine, added Breitenbach.

City Press reported that, at a session of the portfolio committee on agriculture, land reform and rural development on Friday, SAPA estimated the egg and broiler industry’s current losses to R4.8 billion.

The major listed poultry companies, Astral Foods and RCL Foods (which owns Rainbow Chicken, among other entities), said they had already suffered losses of R220 million and R115 million, respectively.

Stakeholders from Astral Foods and independent economist Johan Willemse said the Department of Agriculture had done nothing to help farmers.

Chris Schutte of Astral noted that South Africa was the only country in the world that failed to compensate farmers for chickens, which they had to destroy to prevent the spread of the disease.

“The US, for example, has a system in which farmers are compensated if the government forces them to cull animals. It’s in the national interests. The risk is too great for farmers to bear alone.”

Breitenbach said egg and chicken meat shortages will worsen over the next few weeks.

Read: The future of food – from edible insects to lab-grown meat

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