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Egg shortage is “not a crisis”

By Sue Segar

THE shortage of eggs in South Africa due to the avian flu outbreak is expected to carry on until December, while the impact of chicken meat shortages resulting from the disease will be felt most strongly at the end of November and into December, according to Izaak Breitenbach, the CEO of the SA Poultry Association.

Izaak Breitenbach.

To date, more than 7,5 million birds – comprising 5 million commercial layer birds and 2,5 million broiler breeder birds – have been culled as a result of the outbreak, which Breitenbach described as the worst in recent years.

South Africa experienced one avian flu outbreak in 2017 and another in 2021, as well as the one which started in April this year.

The culling of the birds has led to a shortage of eggs, resulting in rationing and price hikes in eggs, and sparked concerns of a chicken meat shortage.

Breitenbach said the country’s egg shortage will carry on until at least the end of the year, “simply because we need to replace the birds and it takes six months for the birds that are replaced to come back into production.

“In terms of broiler meat, we haven’t seen a shortage yet because of the long lead time that the broiler breeders have on the production of meat. For example, the birds that are culled today would only have been slaughtered towards the end of November, and during December. We expect the biggest impact of the disease in terms of meat will be end of November, December.”

On a positive note, Breitenbach stressed the industry has taken preventative measures to reduce the impact of the chicken meat shortage. “Firstly they built up a lot of stock during winter which will be flushed out towards the end of the year when we expect the biggest impact of the disease; Secondly, the industry will be importing 21,5 million fertilised eggs to be used for broiler production to reduce the shortage expected in December.”

Breitenbach said in terms of rates of infections per week, the disease peaked in mid-September “and we hope to now see a decline in the impact of the virus.” Asked how long he anticipates rations will be in place for eggs, Breitenbach said: “We should see a full recovery between six and 18 months.

“In terms of chicken meat, about 24 percent of our meat is imported and we normally see an increase in imports between September and December. Importers would have noticed the shortage in chicken meat specifically that is happening and therefore import more to cover the losses.

“In terms of commercial table eggs, it is slightly more difficult. They will need to be shipped into SA and that will take six to nine weeks and by that time the eggs will be old.”
Breitenbach said the industry is planning to bring in egg pulp and egg powder to alleviate shortages.

Under normal conditions, there are about 23 million commercial layer birds in South Africa at any time. “Of these, about 5 million were culled during the outbreak. From about 23 million eggs a day before the influenza, it’s come down by 5 million a day.”

Allaying fears that SA will run out of eggs and chicken, he stressed: “We’ll see a marginal shortage, but it’s not a crisis.”

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