R2BN ENTERPRISE AT STANDSTILL AFTER EXPORT BAN DUE TO BIRD FLU: WEEKEND POST

THE Eastern and Southern Cape’s R1.7-billion ostrich industry has been dealt a major blow after all exports to the European Union were suspended this week.

The ban, which was put into effect on Thursday, follows the outbreak of avian flu in the Oudtshoorn area.

Provincial spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape Wouter Kriel said yesterday the H5N2 virus was initially detected on five farms in the Oudtshoorn area, but this had since been narrowed down to one farm in the area, with 5 000 ostriches.

“The birds will have to be destroyed to prevent the further spread of the disease,” Kriel said.

Although the mass culling of the birds would have a substantial financial impact on the farmer, the whole industry had come to a standstill as a result of the ban.

Anton Kruger, chief executive of the South African Ostrich Business Chamber, explained that no meat, even from areas not affected, could be exported. “Ostrich meat currently contributes about 62% of income for the ostrich industry and for every month of the duration of the ban South Africa will lose R108-million in direct income,” Kruger said.

The Eastern and Southern Cape made up 80% of the national industry and the ostrich industry was worth about R2.1-billion each year.

He added the outbreak was crippling to an industry already under pressure due to the prolonged drought in the primary ostrich production areas as well as the effects of the strong rand.

The strain of the virus that broke out in the Oudtshoorn area is not dangerous to humans, but the suspension is in compliance with international requirements. At this stage the duration of the suspension is unclear.

“It’s a virus and it’s spread by birds. You can’t really prevent birds from interacting with animals on your farm,” said Kriel.

He said the ban on exports had been self-imposed by the farmers to protect the integrity of their stock.

In line with international protocol, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) had been informed of the detection of the virus.

According to a notification on the OIE’s website, 5 754 birds on the farm were susceptible to the virus, 100 cases had been found and 100 deaths reported.

The virus was detected during routine tests.

The industry, which supports 20 000 people in the area, has now ground to a halt.

Kriel said the provincial government was in discussion with its national counterpart in an attempt to compensate the affected farmer.

DA Spokesperson for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism John Cupido said government should act quickly to adjust budgets to help affected farmers.

A hygiene and sanitation company in the food sector, Ecowize, said it was “crucial” to put stringent measures in place on farms throughout the country to prevent the outbreak from becoming a nationwide threat.