Avian flu ruffles ostrich industry

21 June 2011 - 02:10 By ADRIENNE CARLISLE

The Eastern Cape ostrich industry is reeling from the recent suspension of the export of ostrich meat and live birds following an avian flu outbreak in the Klein Karoo area of the Western Cape.

As an Ostrich bites on a peace of grass.
As an Ostrich bites on a peace of grass.

About 15% of the country's ostrich farms are in the Eastern Cape. The ban has brought the Grahamstown ostrich export abattoir to its knees and has hit other ostrich-based businesses, and farmers, hard.

Dozens of jobs have already been lost and more are likely to follow.

South Africa accounts for about 80% of world ostrich production.

In April, a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza was detected at a farm in the Klein Karoo, which is the heart of the ostrich industry.

The spokesman for the SA Ostrich Business Chamber, Anton Kruger, said yesterday that, since April, 23000 ostriches had been slaughtered on about 18 farms in the Klein Karoo. Farmers whose ostriches were killed are being compensated.

But for many others, including those in the Eastern Cape, their businesses have come to a standstill and they have no income.

Kruger said other aspects of the industry, including the export of ostrich leather, leather products and feathers, had also come to a standstill, though these items had not been included in the EU ban on imports of ostrich products.

"Until recently, there has been no slaughtering of ostriches, so these [products] are in short supply," he said.

But areas outside the Klein Karoo, such as Grahamstown and Graaff-Reinet, had been given permission to slaughter for the local market and this would produce some leather and feathers.

Kruger emphasised that the birds being slaughtered for the local market were sourced from disease-free farms and slaughtered in abattoirs outside the flu-affected area.

A director of the Grahamstown ostrich abattoir, Norman Bester, estimated that R108-million in direct income was being lost to the country because of the export ban.

"Over 600 people have lost their jobs at the Outdshoorn abattoir alone. [In the Klein Karoo] 52000 people will be affected," he said.