South Africa

Food security warning amid South Africa’s chicken crisis

A rampant bird flu outbreak is threatening the supply of South Africa’s most consumed animal protein, risking the country’s food security. 

This is feedback from the General Manager of Merlog Foods – an importer and distributor of chicken and other frozen food stuff – Georg Southey.

Southey told 702 that South Africa consumes approximately 2.3 billion kg of chicken annually, which equals around 38 kg per person per year. 

He said 60% of all animal proteins that South Africans consume is made up of chicken meat, making it the most consumed animal protein in the country.

However, the recent outbreak of a particularly severe strain of avian flu (bird flu) has spread to most of the country’s provinces, leading to over 7 million chickens being culled.

Southey said approximately 20% of table egg production and between 25% and 30% of broiler chicken production have already been impacted. 

He estimates that around 30% of local production has been lost, and the country will be short 600 million kg of chicken over the next 12 months.

He said this is a particularly serious problem in South Africa, which is already a food-insecure country. 

“We have a major problem with the affordability and availability of enough nutritious food, especially to feed poorer consumers and in some rural areas,” he said.

Faced with this egg shortage, many retailers have rationed purchases, raised prices, or simply run out of stock. The impact of the shortfall has, therefore, already reached consumers.

Georg Southey

However, consumers have not yet felt the impact of the chicken shortage since the production differs from that of table eggs. 

“There’s still suitable stocks of chicken in the system, but the problem is that the next cycle of growing chickens is going to start impacting probably from about the middle of November,” Southey warned. 

“And we see this running through for at least 12 to 18 months in terms of supply disruptions because it takes between 18 and 22 months to bring new production systems into the market.”

He said that from December and likely for the next 12 months, South Africa will be approximately 50 million kg of chicken short per month unless there are some severe interventions.

“Obviously, if we see that there are further infections of bird flu in the South African production system, those shortages could even increase further.”

Southey’s concerns echo Professor Robert Bragg from the Univerisity of the Free State Department of Microbiology and Biochemistry echoed this view.

Bragg recently told Newzroom Afrika that the effect of the bird flu outbreak on South Africa’s poultry industry will be a long-term problem.

He said it would likely take between 18 and 25 weeks for the industry to replace the breeder birds that were culled due to the outbreak.

After the breeder birds have been replaced, they must start laying eggs, which usually takes around 23 weeks. The birds will go into peak production at 35 weeks.

Following this, the eggs must hatch, which takes around 21 days. The hatchlings will be put into poultry houses, and on average, the broiler birds must stay there for about 35 days. 

“So if you add all of that up, it’s going to be a substantial lag before we’ve caught up,” he said.

“What’s worrying is the impact this is having on the small to medium-sized poultry farmers because they’re 100% reliant on getting birds from the breeders.” 

“And if the birds are being culled, they’re not getting replacement birds for their egg production or their broilers. So it’s going to be a long-term problem.”


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