SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa’s poultry industry is urgently appealing for intervention measures to prevent the spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) strain, H7N6.

Outbreaks of highly pathogenic H7N6 avian flu, which began in May 2023, resulted in the loss of approximately a quarter of South Africa’s poultry by September, with layer farms being the hardest hit, according to a poultry industry official.

The World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) reported that the outbreaks originated in Mpumalanga province on May 29, 2023, and subsequently spread to farms in Gauteng, Free State, Limpopo, and Northwest provinces.

Since then, the industry has endured significant losses over the past year, including the culling of 9.5 million birds.

Traditionally relying on a stamping-out policy, the industry now acknowledges the inefficacy of this approach against the H7N6 strain, according to the South African Poultry Association (SAPA).

Recognizing the pressing need for a proactive strategy, the industry is advocating for the mandatory implementation of avian influenza vaccination.

However, stringent biosecurity standards and monitoring protocols currently pose significant challenges to widespread vaccination efforts.

The association emphasized that despite the industry’s readiness to comply, none of the companies have met the rigorous requirements for vaccination yet, highlighting the urgent need for practical solutions.

The industry points out the tangible benefits of widespread vaccination in mitigating HPAI outbreaks, citing successful examples from other countries, such as France’s vaccination of 21 million ducks.

With no compensation mechanism in place for culled birds, producers are bearing the brunt of financial losses, including expenses related to cleaning infected premises and restocking farms.

The toll has been particularly devastating for smaller producers, with many forced out of business, while larger companies have reported unprecedented financial losses.

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