Irvine’s loses millions to bird flu

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HARARE – Zimbabwe’s largest poultry producer, Irvine’s, said it has lost “significant amounts of money” to highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza — known as bird flu — which broke out in the country last month.


The H5N8 strain has been detected in several countries in Europe, Africa and Asia over the past two years, its spread aided by wild bird migrations. Highly pathogenic among fowl, the risk of human infection is low, according to the World Health Organisation.


Irvine’s chief executive David Irvine said the meat producer’s profitability was going to be “seriously” affected by its decision to cull 140 000 birds following an outbreak of the virus at its premises which killed 7 000 others.


“We are likely to have a lot of money written off the bottom line,” he told the businessdaily last week.


In an effort to prevent the spread of the virus the government quarantined the affected site and is on high alert to ensure that the avian flu does not spread to small-scale chicken producers — where it might become difficult to control.


Zimbabwe’s neighbours, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa, said they were suspending the import of domesticated and wild birds and their products from the country.


Irvine, however, said the company was solid and is not likely to face further losses after it contained the outbreak with the assistance of the veterinary department.


“We have enforced increased biosecurity measures which include increased restriction of access to our farms, deep cleansing of all equipment and maintaining proper disinfection of vehicles entering farms,” he said.


Irvine’s, which produces over 1,5 million day-old chicks per week, operates a comprehensive biosecurity programme which has been developed and refined over many years to ensure the highest possible status for chickens.


The company, which has been operating in Zimbabwe since the 1950s, said it was negotiating with some poultry producers in Europe where it plans to secure eggs to avert a possible chicken shortage in the country.


Chicken is arguably the most used protein in Zimbabwe as the majority can no longer afford beef.


“We are currently seeking approval from the Veterinary Department about importing eggs. We have identified a source in Spain and if we get the approval this week we might get the eggs into the country as soon as next week,” Irvine said.

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