The European Commission has sent animal health experts to South Africa to help authorities there contain an avian flu outbreak that has put a halt to ostrich meat exports.
The emergency veterinary team arrived on Wednesday, following the discovery of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in ostrich farms in the Western Cape province, the commission said Thursday.
The outbreak was first detected on April 9 in Klein Karoo Valley and in the following weeks the disease "spread further in the area endangering the local ostrich population that is kept for meat production," it said.
The disease has not had any public health impact but it has had a major effect on animal welfare as well as "serious economic effects on the local rural population," the European Union's executive arm said.
"In fact, following the outbreak exports of ostrich meat, usually destined for the EU market, have been immediately stopped to prevent the spread of the disease outside South Africa's borders," it said in a statement.
The commission said the European experts will help control the disease to limit the risk to other poultry and eventually reduce trade restrictions.
South African experienced HPAI outbreaks in 2004 and 2006, but like the current cases they were not caused by the H5N1 strain of the virus, which can be fatal to humans, the EU executive said.