09 May 12 Karoo ostrich industry finds way to beat the EU bird-flu ban
South Africa’s beleaguered ostrich industry has found a means to sidestep the crippling export ban on its products — imposed 12 months ago by the European Union after an outbreak of bird flu — by selling heat-processed meat abroad.
The EU ban excludes meat that has been “precooked” for just three seconds at 70°C.
As a result, Oudtshoorn-based company Klein Karoo International received an order from Germany for 40 tons of heat-treated ostrich meat, says MD Johan Stumpf.
“We are still in a development phase with the product, but we received an order of 40 tons from a German retailer. Although not large compared with annual production, it is significant in terms of a totally new concept to the market. It will go into the shops in May,” Mr Stumpf said.
“Should this be successful, I do think it could be an alternative for the ostrich industry. ” He said there had also been positive interest from other countries in Europe.
Klein Karoo International bought the processing equipment from the Klein Karoo Cuisine company in Johannesburg after the ban on ostrich exports to the EU was imposed in April last year when the H5N2 bird flu virus was first detected on farms in the Klein Karoo Valley. The firm now produces heat-processed ostrich steaks, goulash and strips.
Although farmers do not get as high a price for heat-processed meat as for raw ostrich meat, the processed product guarantees an all-year export market, unaffected by the avian flu ban.
Meanwhile, Business Day reports that South Africa’s ostrich farmers are desperately waiting for a ban on meat exports to be lifted, with time and money running out.
About 740 farms used to be registered with the South African Ostrich Business Chamber (SAOBC), but this number decreased when the H5N2 bird-flu virus broke out last year in the Klein Karoo, in the Western Cape.
“This (number) has reduced significantly in the past few months, with the European Union export ban being a main driver, as it’s no longer profitable,” says Piet Kleyn, interim CEO of the business chamber.
The EU used to import 90% of South Africa’s ostrich meat.
The ban’s effects have been keenly felt by ostrich farms — mostly located in the Klein Karoo valley, southern Cape and Eastern Cape — that used to slaughter 250000 birds a year for meat, leather and feathers.
More than 40000 infected ostriches were culled following last year’s outbreak, according to Wouter Kriel, spokesman for the Western Cape department of agriculture.
He said the industry was losing about R108m a month in export revenue, while 20000 job opportunities were at stake.
The national government provided compensation of R50m to farmers who lost birds, but many had to close their farms or survive with a limited flock.
Farmers are increasingly looking to the domestic market to sell ostrich meat, but it is a niche market favoured mostly by health-conscious consumers.
“It’s ironic and frustrating,” Kleyn said. “The meat that we are not allowed to export is perfectly safe and can be sold into the domestic market. It is very small, though, and wherever we could, we’ve been trying to campaign and lobby.”
Ostrich is an expensive meat as it cannot be sold on the bone, unlike beef and mutton. A 95kg bird yields only about 15kg-17kg of prime cuts…..