The ostrich industry has asked the government to investigate alternative methods of curbing avian flu, as it fears that culling is not working and will destroy ostrich farming in SA.
Since the H5N2 flu outbreak was first detected in the Klein Karoo last April, about 50,000 ostriches were culled, yet the virus spread to flocks in the Breede Valley, Albertinia, Mossel Bay and Great Brak about a month ago.
The industry's biggest buyer, the European Union (EU), imposed an export ban that resulted in losses of more than R1bn. Several farmers have culled their entire ostrich flock and laid off all their workers.
Western Cape agriculture department spokesman Wouter Kriel said yesterday a task team consisting of the industry, state veterinarians and government officials was established on Tuesday to investigate whether culling was effective.
Some farmers believed that the virus was transmitted to ostriches via wild birds. They feared that even if all their ostriches were culled, it would not stamp out the H5N2 virus as it would continue to survive in wild bird populations.
"We don't know what the technical people will come up with as an effective measure, but we've asked them to investigate other avenues like vaccination regimes, and the use of quarantine and zoning areas," Mr Kriel said.
This did not mean 50,000 birds had been "culled for no reason. When we had our first avian flu outbreak in 2005-06, culling was effective and we managed to stamp it out in the Klein Karoo.
"Until recently the consensus was that culling was the best method to fight the virus, but now the industry doubts the wisdom of culling. We have to look at whether culling is assisting the industry or destroying it."
SA Ostrich Business Chamber acting chairman Piet Kleyn said there had been no proper research into how the H5N2 virus manifested itself in ostriches.
The EU had instituted the ban in terms of its poultry protocol as a preventative measure to ensure the virus did not spread. "The EU has to protect its own interests, just as we in SA also have to protect our food security, people and animals," Mr Kleyn said. Garden Route Media Source: Business Day