21 October 2005
South Africa is internationally recognised as being free from avian influenza and has strict measures in place to maintain that status, the Department of Agriculture said in a statement on Friday following the recent outbreak of bird flu in Thailand.
According to the department, South Africa monitors international developments closely and imports live poultry only from countries that have been avian influenza free for the preceding six months.
If there is any uncertainty, the country is regarded as infected until proven otherwise.
Departmental spokesperson Steve Galane said all imported live birds were tested at origin, quarantined and retested in South Africa.
Importation of poultry meat was only allowed from approved processing establishments, he added. Other poultry products such as feathers were only allowed to be imported if treated to inactivate the virus.
Other species suspected of being susceptible to avian influenza, such as cats and pigs, are also tested upon importat, although they are regarded as unlikely to pose any risk.
The department says it has an extensive surveillance programme in place for all domestic ostriches, commercial and non-commercial chickens to ensure that any possible introduction of the virus into the country is detected without delay.
Migrating shore birds are now also monitored to determine if they carry any avian influenza viruses.
The Department of Agriculture has a comprehensive contingency plan in place, coordinated with the Department of Health, to deal with any outbreak should it occur, Galane said.
Strict bio-security measures are in place on all chicken farms and there is meat inspection at abattoirs to ensure that only healthy chickens are slaughtered for human consumption.
South Africa declared itself free from avian influenza on 13 September 2005, a move accepted by the European Union and the International Animal Health Organisation in Paris.
This followed an extensive culling operation in which a total of 26 454 ostriches were destroyed as a result of an outbreak of H5N2 notifiable avian influenza in the Eastern Cape in 2004.
A countrywide survey was conducted to determine the extent of the outbreak, with a number of positive ostrich farms detected in the Western Cape, although no sick ostriches were seen. Controlled slaughter was carried out in this case.
No chickens, either commercial or non-commercial, have ever tested positive for avian influenza in South Africa.
Another countrywide survey of domesticated ostriches and commercial and non-commercial chickens, carried out earlier this year, found that there was no bird flu circulating in the country.
This made South Africa one of few countries in the world to have successfully contained an outbreak of the virus, Galane said.