Bird flu culls damage poultry sector

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Business Writers
Industry experts say the culling of birds at Irvine’s Lanark Farm will pose a great threat to the sector as it will take time before the birds can be replaced.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) also weighed in saying Zimbabwe and other sub-regional countries risk a relapse into food and income insecurity if they fail to move swiftly in a coordinated manner to control the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

The financial loss could also run into millions of dollars considering the calibre of the birds that have been culled, said the expert who requested not to be named for professional reasons.

“These are not your ordinary birds, we are talking about breeder grandparent and parent stocks with an estimated average cost of at least $7 per bird.

“A grandparent bird can cost as much as $40 per bird, so if they are going to kill say 500 000 birds, it means the loss will be anything above $3,5 million,” said the expert.

The culling of the birds is going to affect the whole chicken value chain with poultry producers reporting a shortage of about two million chicks.

Following the outbreak that has also affected the region, Zimbabwean producers are forced to import chicks from as far afield as Europe. But the bottleneck is the 40 percent import duty hatching eggs producers have to pay and they want Government to scrap the levy.

“We want Government to help us so that we can import hatching eggs as raw materials. This will ensure that we maintain the growth in the industry and avoid imports of chickens,” Zimbabwe Poultry Association chairperson, Solomon Zawe said this week.

Failure to import hatching eggs for the production of chicks could lead to some poultry producers closing shop. This would force the country to import chicken, thereby pumping up the country’s import bill.

Zimbabwe produced about six million day old chicks per month before the outbreak but is currently producing half of that.

Stock feed manufacturers who supply feed to the culled birds, the chicks up to the six week broiler bird will also feel the impact of the cut back in the bird population.

Meanwhile, the Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services has its work cut out as it tries to control the highly pathogenic avian influenza – H5N8 type virus that has hit Lanark Farm.

Speaking in an interview with Business Weekly, Principal Director Livestock and Veterinary Services (DLVS), Dr Unesu Ushewekunze-Obatolu, said Lanark Farm had between 500 000 and 600 000 birds of which 70 percent had now been depopulated.

She said depopulation work is currently on-going as part of containment in the interests of the company and the country.

“Destroyed birds, which include all the affected and in-contact birds, cannot be introduced into the food chain as there is always a risk that the viruses can re-assort, mutate and become infective to people.

Dr Ushewokunze-Obatolu said approximately half a million dollars is needed to enable on-going programme of intensified surveillance on Lanark Farm and around the country in order to meet emergency preparedness and response to contain the virus.

The Department has an on-going need for intelligence gathering about new and re-emerging high impact disease causing organisms and pests and to be in alert mode to react swiftly once a disaster strikes.

“Like fire drills, disease emergency situations need to be regularly simulated in order for new and old staff to learn how to get into motion at appropriate times.

“Added to this, service structures have not been adequately resourced financially, materially and in terms of the technical capability, to spring to action with the swiftness desired.  This also requires close collaboration with stakeholders in the industry who own and care for the livestock resources,” said Dr Ushewokunze-Obatolu.

She said after culling the last “affected and at risk” birds, it will take at least another 3 months while checking to ensure that the virus is completely eliminated from the production environment, before the DLVS can declare that the pathogenic avian influenza is fully contained.

Dr Ushewokunze-Obatolu also dismissed reports that the farm has been hit for the second time by the same disease.

“Contrary to what has been reported in some sections of the media, we are still dealing with the same outbreak that was first reported in June. The quarantine had not been lifted.  So this is a resurgence of something not yet completely gone.  Laboratory confirmations back us up.

“It takes at least 3 months after culling, continuous surveillance and test bird introduction, in order for us to have full confidence to declare that we have fully contained the outbreak.

“And those three months had not lapsed.  We are still dealing with the same outbreak and we have not announced that it has been fully contained,” said Dr Ushewokunze-Obatolu.

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