A FRESH positive test result for the H5N2 avian flu virus in the Klein Karoo has dashed hope the industry could resume trade this month with the European Union (EU), its biggest ostrich export market.

South African Ostrich Business Chamber interim CEO Piet Kleyn said yesterday that the test result came after the eighth round of tests in February since the virus was first detected on a farm near Oudtshoorn in April last year.

The latest case was found on a farm near De Rust, east of Oudtshoorn, in an area that had previously been virus-free.

"It is not clear when exports will resume. The resumption of meat exports will be negotiated with trading partners (in the EU), once the identified shortcomings in the current system have been addressed and recommendations have been implemented," the chamber said.

The EU used to import 90% of SA's ostrich meat and Brazil imported 15 tons of feathers, but with the ban in place Mr Kleyn said the financial status of the industry was "terrible".

"The latest calculations show we are losing R108m per month in the industry," he said.

A plan to have the Eden District, which included the Klein Karoo, declared a disaster area so that the ostrich industry could access provincial and national relief funding was making little progress, he said.

"We don't want to be too critical because we understand that it is difficult to apply the various steps that need to be taken to declare a disaster, but so far nothing much has been achieved."

Since the start of the outbreak last April, the industry has lost an estimated R1bn and culled about 41000 birds.

There is no market for ostrich chicks due to the movement restrictions that are in place while the virus remains active and farms which have had their flocks culled will not be allowed to restock until the area is disease-free for three months - the incubation period of the virus.

The EU will consider resuming trade only once the industry has been disease-free for three months, and has put in place various disease-control measures.

The ostrich industry, along with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, had asked international bird flu experts from the EU to evaluate the sustainability of the industry.

"The experts advised that the industry must be restructured in order to be sustainable. The biggest changes that would have to be implemented are to limit movement of ostriches and implementing stricter biosecurity measures on farms," Mr Kleyn said.

In order to remain sustainable, the density of ostrich populations in certain areas would need to be reduced, while a reliable, sustainable disease-control system would need to be put in place to ensure other susceptible birds did not become ill.

Garden Route Media