Eggs drought hits South Africa's Western Cape province. (Picture: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay)
Around 70% of the eggs in the South Africa's Western Cape province are gone, as the H5N8 strain of the highly pathogenic avian flu continues to spread.

The poultry industry has been hardest hit by the virus and more than 2 million birds have died or been destroyed as a result, with 36 confirmed cases in the province. Pier Passerini, managing director of Windmeul Eggs, one of the province’s biggest egg producers, said the reality was that 70% of the province’s eggs were gone.

“We have lost 80% of our production and the last 20% is also in jeopardy.”

Passerini said eggs would have to be imported from other provinces and that they would not only be harder to come by, but also come at quite a cost.

“In terms of agricultural protein we make up 70% of that and we (produce) the cheapest source of protein.

“We will have to start with retrenchments because we can’t carry our staff and we will be speaking with labour unions on Monday. The financial loss is too big to do it again.” Passerini said they lost 500 000 birds. “It’s not going away, the only solution is vaccination. It’s too late for us as a company, but not for the industry.”

Dr Ziyanda Majokweni, director of poultry disease management for the SA Poultry Association, said the province may see a shortage in chicken products, particularly eggs, but added that egg producers were putting measures in place that included importing of fertile eggs to try to make up for any shortfalls.

Some retailers said they were still able to supply eggs to their customers, but said they were keeping a close eye on the situation. Shoprite said it had adequate quantities of eggs to service consumer demand for the rest of the month.

“However, retailers will not be able to place eggs on promotion in order to keep demand levels stable. Egg suppliers have indicated that warmer weather will assist in putting avian flu in check, but it would be best to talk to egg manufacturers directly for more information on the current position and outlook.”

Pick * Pay spokesperson Tamra Veley said: “Pick n Pay stores are fully stocked with eggs. We are in close contact with all our suppliers to make sure we have a consistent supply of eggs for our customers.”

Agricultural economist for the Department of Agriculture Louw Pienaar said poorer households would be hardest hit.

He said poorer households spend about R64 a month on eggs and the department was in the process of examining the impact on farm level. “We can expect huge increases in the next few months and that is a big concern for us. Coming off two droughts we will see a leap in food prices and now animal food prices will go up in the immediate term.”

Pienaar said they estimated that around 900 000 people in the province buy eggs.