Home OpinionLuqmaan Rawat The impact of Avian flu on SA’s Halal chicken industry

The impact of Avian flu on SA’s Halal chicken industry

by Luqmaan Rawat
Consumers might have to tighten their belt as the Avian flu shows no sign of stopping Photo Pexels

South Africa – South Africa’s poultry industry is in a dire situation due to the worst avian flu outbreak it has ever experienced. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development has reported a devastating toll, with over 107 705 chickens succumbing to the virus and more than 7 million chickens culled. Consequently, egg prices have skyrocketed, and the cost of chicken meat is expected to increase. This scarcity presents a challenge for businesses trying to meet consumer demands while maintaining Halal standards.

More than half of the outbreaks are in the Gauteng province, which includes the country’s biggest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria. Other affected provinces include Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Northwest, and the Free State, albeit to a lesser extent. According to a source who is part of the wholesale chicken industry and wished to remain anonymous, the shortage of Halal chicken stems from abattoir production being cut down for health and safety reasons.

“If they were slaughtering six times a week, 300 000 birds a day, that is 1.8 million birds a week, they are now slaughtering 900 000 a week. They now work in a three day shift with the same expenses, same running costs. The demand has increased versus the output. In order for them to sustain themselves, they need to increase their price.”

The reduction in production has affected chicken wholesalers in multiple ways. Prices from abattoirs have risen, and there are instances where orders are not fully completed. Additionally, abattoirs are not accepting new customer orders, adding to the challenges faced by wholesalers.

“You can only get supply from the abattoirs if you have been loyal to them throughout the year. If you haven’t, they are basically throwing you to the side. I do get stock, it is just that my orders now and then tend to get cut. Especially at the end of the month. We deal in fresh meat and that has a shelf life of seven days from slaughter. They can’t delay your order because you will be losing shelf life. What they do is, they cut your order. If you order ten pallets, they will send you seven pallets. You will only see it when it gets to you, that your order has been cut and you need to figure a way around it and supply all your customers based on that.”


The knock on impact for consumers and butcheries 

The selective approach of abattoirs in supplying clients, combined with incomplete order fulfillments, has severely disrupted the supply chain. Ismail Khan, who runs Khan’s Butchery in Newcastle, is facing significant challenges as his major chicken supplier has drastically downscaled its operations.

“I do have a problem with the supply chain with one of my biggest suppliers of chicken. He has downsized a lot. I will be honest. Even my normal order where we used to take a lot of chickens has been downsized tremendously as well.”

Foot traffic in butcheries has also been significantly affected. Mohammed Dawood, the proprietor of Abed’s Butchery and Meat Products in Stanger, pointed out that not only has the supply become inconsistent, but there has also been a noticeable decline in customer demand.

“For now, we are still getting chicken. The people are not buying as much as before. Maybe they are scared because of this Avian flu. We do about 10 to 15 chickens per week but it definitely has impacted the local market and the economy.”

Suppliers are raising prices in response to growing shortages. Despite downsizing their orders, Khan’s supplier has also hiked their prices, an adjustment Khan acknowledges and understands.

“There has been an increase but I don’t blame them. As a chicken farmer, you could be taking a loss of 100 000 chickens or so [due to them being culled] and that is a loss you have to take. It is a tremendous amount. Demand is still there but now the supply is short so price will increase.”


The future of the chicken industry in South Africa 

The repercussions of this outbreak extend far beyond the immediate loss of poultry. South Africa’s poultry and egg exports have also taken a massive hit due to this outbreak. Namibia, among the first nations to respond, has swiftly imposed a ban on imports of live poultry birds and poultry products from South Africa. This decision, made in immediate response to the crisis, underscores the severity of the situation. According to Khan, there is no timeframe on when the Avian flu crisis will end.

“They [suppliers] are trying to figure out when this will end and when they will be able to supply everyone in full quantity. KZN has not been hit that hard but our suppliers have to start pulling stock from the other various provinces. Once you go out of the province, it now becomes hard [to get fresh chickens]. We can only wait and see how it goes.”

Although Khan is facing shortages, he is reluctant to buy from other suppliers to make up his stock. 

“I’d rather stick to one person. If I start jumping around, I might not be guaranteed that the new supplier will be able to give me the same assurances as the person I am currently buying from. He might grow his chickens in his backyard, not knowing his chickens are sick, not picking up the signs they are and then you buy it not realising it isn’t of good quality. You have to make sure everything is done properly.”

Compounding the crisis is the absence of a vaccine for the prevalent H7N6 strain affecting chickens, particularly those sold in supermarkets. South Africa currently lacks vaccinations against this unique and highly contagious strain. It appears the chicken shortage is here to stay, forcing consumers to prepare for either higher prices or the possibility of going without chicken.

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