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Poultry association calls for vaccination to prevent H7N6 avian influenza outbreak

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Poultry association calls for vaccination to prevent H7N6 avian influenza outbreak

A photo of chickens
Photo by Bloomberg

13th May 2024

By: Schalk Burger
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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The South African poultry industry is calling for immediate intervention to avert an outbreak of the H7N6 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) that it is grappling with, following a year of significant losses, including the culling of 9.5-million birds.

While traditionally reliant on a stamping out policy, the industry acknowledges the inefficiency of this approach against the H7N6 strain, industry organisation the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) said.

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The South African poultry industry recognises the urgent need for a proactive strategy and is advocating for the mandatory implementation of avian influenza vaccination.

However, current regulations pose significant challenges, with stringent biosecurity standards and monitoring protocols hindering widespread vaccination efforts.

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Despite the industry's willingness to comply, no company has yet met the rigorous requirements for vaccination, underscoring the urgency for practical solutions, the association emphasised.

The industry emphasises the tangible benefits of widespread vaccination in curbing HPAI outbreaks, highlighting international examples, such as France's successful vaccination of 21-million ducks.

"Urgent action is needed to align vaccination requirements with practical implementation, and thereby ensuring that companies of all sizes can effectively protect their flocks and prevent future disasters," SAPA said.

With no compensation mechanism in place for culled birds, producers shoulder the heavy burden of financial losses, including the costs associated with cleaning infected premises and restocking farms.

The toll has been particularly harsh on smaller producers, with many forced out of business, and larger companies reporting record financial losses, it said.

"The South African poultry industry urges Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza to spearhead a process that addresses the critical issues hampering vaccination efforts."

By establishing practical, science-based guidelines and resolving existing barriers, the government can safeguard food security, mitigate economic losses and protect against the environmental impact of mass bird culling, it noted.

"The South African poultry industry stands ready to collaborate with government stakeholders to implement effective vaccination strategies and prevent another devastating HPAI outbreak."

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