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South Africa’s Poultry Sector Faces Unprecedented Bird Flu Crisis

Automated Egg Picking Assembly Line for Modern Smart Agricultural Egg Hen Farms

South Africa’s poultry industry is grappling with its most severe bird flu outbreak to date, leading to concerns over egg and meat supply shortages.

Major poultry producers, including Astral Foods, have raised alarms about potential shortages in the upcoming months due to the H5 and H7 avian influenza strains. The impact is already visible in cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg, where consumers are reporting less stocked shelves.

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“I had to settle for battery-chicken eggs as I couldn’t find any free-range ones,” remarked a resident of Cape Town. “For me, it’s akin to testing chemicals on lab animals for better cosmetic products.”

In Johannesburg, a consumer shared their difficulty in finding their favourite egg brand at Checkers for a week, a situation that has since repeated. Another shopper observed a similar scarcity at a Woolworths outlet.

Shoprite, the parent company of Checkers and the Sixty60 delivery service, acknowledged the bird flu’s impact on their chicken and egg supplies.

“We’re liaising with our suppliers to secure ample stock and leveraging our supply chain to address regions facing shortages,” the company stated.

Woolworths echoed this sentiment, noting that the entire market is affected. The company has faced significant supply challenges due to the avian flu, especially in the Gauteng region.

“To safeguard their health, we’ve temporarily housed our free-range hens indoors upon veterinary experts’ advice,” Woolworths explained. “In regions like Gauteng, Free State, and KwaZulu-Natal, where hens have been kept indoors, eggs are temporarily labelled as ‘barn eggs from free-range hens’. This will continue until the threat subsides and the hens can roam freely again.”

Woolworths also emphasized its commitment to supporting its farmers and suppliers, ensuring supply restoration at the earliest.

Extended Supply Disruptions Expected

Food Lover’s Market, a family-owned retail chain, is preparing for significant egg shortages in the forthcoming months. After engaging with various egg suppliers, the chain anticipates an erratic supply for at least four to six months.

The bird flu has affected the Western Cape for the past two months. While Food Lover’s Market had initially managed the demand, the situation has worsened.

“Most of our supplier farms in the province are now impacted, which directly affects our stock levels,” the company revealed.

The outbreak has also severely damaged poultry and egg farms in the inland regions, including Gauteng, over the past three weeks. Two of Food Lover’s five suppliers have ceased operations, with another functioning at reduced capacity.

“Our remaining suppliers are striving to meet the surge in orders from our stores and other clients,” the company added.

The severity of this outbreak has even impacted laying hen breeders, delaying the placement of breeding hens with suppliers.

Spar acknowledged disruptions in its egg supply chain and is collaborating with its suppliers to ensure consistent supply. The company is also exploring the possibility of importing eggs from other Southern African nations.

“Our suppliers are keenly aware of the bird flu’s rapid spread in the South African poultry sector. They are dedicated to maintaining product supply to our longstanding customers and partners,” Spar commented.

Pick n Pay assured that they have eggs in stock and are closely collaborating with suppliers to manage inventory and support impacted outlets.

Makro, a part of the Walmart-owned Massmart group, noted that while stock levels in Gauteng are currently lower than usual, they are still meeting the demand.

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