THE ostrich industry has asked the government to investigate alternative methods to curb the outbreak of avian flu, fearing that culling is not working and will destroy ostrich farming in South Africa.
Western Cape Agriculture spokesman Wouter Kriel said yesterday a task team including industry role-players, state veterinarians and government departments was set up on Tuesday to investigate whether or not culling was effective.
Since the outbreak was first detected in the Little Karoo area in April last year, more than 50000 ostriches have been culled. Despite these efforts to control the virus, bird flu spread to flocks in the Breede Valley, Albertinia, Mossel Bay and Great Brak areas about a month ago.
The industry’s biggest buyer, the European Union (EU), implemented an export ban that has resulted in loses of more than R1-billion. A number of farmers have had to cull their entire flock and lay off workers.
Ostrich industry role-players called the meeting on Tuesday as they feared culling was not working. One theory was that the virus was being transmitted to ostriches in the Southern Cape and Little Karoo area via wild birds.
Farmers feared that if all their ostriches were culled, they would still not have stamped out the H5N2 virus as it would continue to live in wild bird populations.
"We don’t know what the technical people will come up with as an effective measure, but we’ve asked them to investigate other avenues like vaccination regimes and the use of quarantine and zoning areas,” Kriel said.
He said this did not mean that 50000 ostriches had been "culled for no reason”.
"When we had our first avian flu outbreak in the 2005/06 period, culling was effective and we did manage to stamp it out in the Klein Karoo when the latest outbreak was experienced. Until recently the consensus was that culling was the best method to fight the virus, but now the industry doubts the wisdom of culling. We have to look at whether culling is assisting the industry or destroying it.”
Kriel said part of the current debate included opinions from local vets and the ostrich industry that avian flu affected ostriches, which are farmed as game and are therefore free roaming, differently to ordinary poultry.
The industry felt if this was the case, the EU’s protocols on dealing with bird flu might not be relevant to ostriches.
SA Ostrich Business Chamber acting chairman Piet Kleyn said there had been no proper research into how the H5N2 virus manifested in ostriches.
The outcome of the investigation holds massive consequences for the industry if it convinces the EU, which accounts for 90% of income, to allow farmers to reinstate exports.
Kriel said the industry was in dire straits and Western Cape Agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg would continue to push national government and the EU to reinstate export rights to individual farmers whose flocks were disease-free and who complied with export regulations.
The EU wants a total restructuring of the industry as well as a three-month disease- free period in order to resume exports.