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Zim under threat from Avian flu outbreak

MTHANDAZO NYONI

ZIMBABWE’S chicken farms are under threat from a potential avian influenza (AI) outbreak following reports that illegal imports of poultry meat and eggs have increased.

The Livestock and Meat Advisory Council (LMAC) said in a report that farmers had raised the red flag over the flood of poultry products into Zimbabwe despite a ban announced following a deadly outbreak in 2017, which forced a single farm to cull over 240 000 birds.

It said farmers’ concerns had increased after realising that most imports were originating from Zambia and South Africa, which have been classified as hig-risk zones.

Zimbabwe was hit by two outbreaks of the bird flu in 2017 at Lanark Farm, which is owned by Irvine’s, the biggest chicken breeder in the country.

The farm was quarantined afterwards and birds were destroyed.

“The Zimbabwe Poultry Association (ZPA) held a meeting on Tuesday 15th June 2021. Discussions included (Statutory Instrument) SI 127 compliance and a return to normalcy for business following engagements with the Reserve Bank through the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries,” the report said.

“Breeding companies cited high demand for hatching eggs and most of them were able to supply day-old chicks to the satisfaction of their customers in the first quarter. A projected increase in demand for day-old chicks towards the end of the second quarter is expected as the winter season wears off. Concerns were noted regarding poultry meat and eggs which are being illegally imported mainly from Zambia and South Africa especially as South Africa is a known Avian Influenza zone,” it said.

Early this year, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement minister Anxious Masuka said South Africa had confirmed an AI outbreak on a commercial chicken-layer farm in Gauteng Province, after which he extended the ban.

AI is a highly infectious and contagious viral disease affecting several species of food producing birds, such as chickens, turkeys, quails, guinea fowls and others.

It is a transboundary disease that can be spread through migratory wild birds and mechanical vectors, such as contaminated vehicles, cages and clothing and through international trade in poultry and poultry products.

The disease can be transmitted to humans through exposure to infected birds or handling of infected carcasses.

Avian flu has the potential to develop into a global pandemic once it breaks out.

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