First case of bird flu in Eastern Cape detected

South Africa’s fourth-largest poultry producer, Sovereign Foods, has culled 5 000 chickens after a strain of the devastating avian influenza was detected at a Uitenhage farm.

This follows 24 outbreaks of the H5N8 strain of bird flu at commercial chicken farms and ostrich farms around the country since June.

The outbreak comes as the shareholders of Uitenhage-based Sovereign consider a firm offer for a R907-million cash buyout by Johannesburg-based Capitalworks, which it proposed early last month.

News of the bird flu came to light when Sovereign – which also has operations at Hartebeespoort – alerted its shareholders yesterday through a Stock Exchange News Service announcement.

It said about 5 000 birds, representing about 1% of Uitenhage’s production, had been culled.

Management was taking the appropriate steps to prevent the outbreak from spreading to other farms.

Eastern Cape Veterinary Services’ Dr Lubabalo Mrwebi said yesterday the reports were extremely concerning. He questioned the way in which Sovereign had announced the news, saying the state vet should have been alerted at the outset.

He had not been aware of the outbreak until contacted by the reporter.

However, Sovereign spokesman JP Roodt said last night that the state vet’s office had been alerted and had already been addressing the situation since Wednesday.

“A third-party laboratory was involved in the avian flu testing,” Roodt said.

Sovereign management were locked in meetings until late yesterday and further details of the outbreak are expected to be released today.

Agri Eastern Cape president Doug Stern said this was the first they had heard of avian flu in the province, but it had only been a matter of time until it spread to the Eastern Cape.

“The way avian flu had been spreading, I think we were lucky to be clear for as long as we have,” Stern said.

“This latest strain seems to be worse than previous cases, so I think it was only a matter of time until our farms were also affected.”

He said the outbreak would undoubtedly have a negative impact on Sovereign’s business.


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