South Africa has culled about 7.5 million chickens to contain dozens of outbreaks of two separate strains of avian influenza that threaten to create a shortage of eggs and poultry for consumers, the government and National Poultry Association have confirmed.
At least 205,000 chickens have died from bird flu in at least 60 separate outbreaks across the country, with more than half of those outbreaks in Gauteng province, which includes the country’s biggest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria.
Some grocery stores in Johannesburg were limiting the number of eggs customers were allowed to buy this week—in some cases, to one carton of six eggs. The government announced approximately 2.5 million chickens bred for their meat had been culled. The South African Poultry Association said another 5 million egg-laying chickens had been culled. The 7.5 million birds represented about 20–30% of South Africa’s total chicken stock. Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza said the government was moving to fast-track new import permits for companies to bring in eggs from other countries “to ensure sufficient supplies for consumers.
Her ministry is also considering a vaccination program to halt the outbreaks and she said the number of farms with cases was increasing. Neighboring Namibia has banned chicken meat and egg imports from South Africa.
The outbreaks are hitting an industry already struggling due to an electricity crisis. South Africa has had three major bird flu outbreaks in recent years, and the latest is “by far the worst,” already costing the industry losses of at least $25 million.
Wilhelm Mare, chairman of the poultry group in the South African Veterinary Association, said 8.5 million egg-laying chickens could be affected and more than 10 million birds overall.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said bird flu outbreaks were on the rise globally, with more than 21,000 outbreaks across the world between 2013 and 2022. Bird flu only rarely infects humans.
Eggs are an important and affordable source of protein in South Africa, but prices have risen steadily this year and the shortages caused by bird flu were expected to push prices up again and add to high food inflation for South Africans. South African farmers said in January they had been forced to cull nearly 10 million young chicks, as Africa’s most advanced economy experienced record blackouts at the start of the year, causing production to slow dramatically and leading to overcrowding on chicken farms.