October 11, 2023

Eggs and Poultry Remain Safe Amidst Avian Flu Concerns

Whole roasted chicken with baked potatoes.

South African consumers are facing a potential scramble for eggs as the avian flu outbreak takes its toll on the poultry industry. While supermarket shelves may still have chicken for your holiday feasts, it’s essential to be aware that meat shortages could be looming in the coming weeks. Let’s explore into the details of this situation and what you can do as a consumer.

Egg Shortage Looms for the Next 6-18 Months

The avian flu outbreak has already impacted the supply of eggs in South Africa. According to Izaak Breytenbach, the Chief Executive of the South African Poultry Association (Sapa), this egg shortage is expected to persist for the next six to 18 months. The industry needs this time to replace the birds that have been culled due to the outbreak.

However, there’s some good news for those planning holiday celebrations. Demand for chicken is traditionally high towards the end of the year, which means consumers may still find sufficient availability of chicken for their festive meals. Nonetheless, Breytenbach suggests considering buying chicken while it’s still available in retail and freezing it for use over December.

Meat Shortages Expected in About 8 Weeks

While the avian flu has not yet significantly impacted the supply of meat, Breytenbach warns that this will change in approximately eight weeks. The culling of 2.5 million broiler birds, specifically raised for meat production, will eventually affect the availability of chicken for consumption.

Breytenbach points out that the industry is taking measures to mitigate the impact of avian flu. They are keeping existing flocks longer to increase egg production and have applied to import 21.5 million hatching eggs from various countries to bolster supply.

Food Safety Assurance

Consumers can rest assured that the eggs and poultry available in the marketplace are safe to eat. In the event of an outbreak on a farm, all birds are culled, and all eggs are destroyed to prevent the spread of the disease. While avian flu is a poultry disease and does not affect humans, the eggs and chicken that reach the market are free from the virus.

The Evolving Nature of Avian Flu

Avian flu is not a new disease, but it has evolved over the years. Historically, it was sporadic, but recent years have seen it become more endemic, making it challenging to control globally. The increase in the global chicken population and the migration of wild birds contribute to the virus’s spread.

Uncertain Duration of the Outbreak

South Africa has experienced avian flu outbreaks in 2017 and 2021, but the current outbreak is the most severe. So far, 7.5 million birds have been culled, nearly double the combined number from the previous outbreaks. Breytenbach acknowledges that it is difficult to predict when this outbreak will end, as there have been more outbreaks over the past 10 weeks, and no decline is observed at the moment.

What to Expect as a Consumer

As a consumer, it’s essential to be prepared for potential egg shortages throughout the rest of the year and the first six months of the following year. The gradual impact of the virus will eventually lead to a shortage of meat, so planning ahead and considering freezing chicken for future use can be a wise strategy.

The South African consumers should stay informed about the evolving situation and be proactive in managing their food needs, especially during the upcoming holiday season. While challenges lie ahead, measures are being taken to ensure food safety and stabilize the poultry industry in the long run.