Egg Prices Fly High Amid Bird Flu Outbreak

Freshly picked eggs in wicker basket on wooden table with straw and feathers.
Davizro / Getty Images/iStockphoto

The White House is hosting the first Easter Egg Roll in two years on April 18 and staff are helping out by preparing baggies filled with liquid Egg Beaters in a cost-saving attempt to combat the rising cost of eggs.  

Okay, we’re a few days late for April Fools’ Day, but all joking aside, nationwide outbreaks of avian flu are disrupting chicken flocks and causing egg prices to rise sharply. With the upcoming Easter and Passover holidays spurring seasonal demand, prices should continue to rise this month.

After circulating in Asia and Europe for months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspections Service (APHIS) states that 22 states have confirmed cases of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), or bird flu, causing disease in both backyard and commercials poultry farms and the “depopulation” of more than 20 million birds.

Inflation, supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine have had a substantial impact on all commodities, and egg and chicken prices have already seen significant increases in price this year. According to a USDA National Retail Report, the price of chicken breasts has increased from an average of $3.14 in the last week of March to $3.93 in the first week of April. A year ago, the average price was $2.48.

However, the current surge in prices is mostly attributed to the HPAI disease. The price of eggs has risen 52% since the first case of avian influenza was confirmed in February. The cost of a dozen eggs is at a current high average of $2.88.

This is only the second major outbreak of HPAI in the U.S. and the first in seven years. The last major outbreak in 2015 cost the poultry industry more than $1.5 billion and caused egg prices to double. That outbreak resulted in the destruction of approximately 12% of the U.S. laying hen population.

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HPAI spreads naturally among waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, that can infect wild birds and domestic poultry, through its virus-containing droppings. It has dozens of strains ranging from low pathogenic to highly pathogenic depending on its ability to spread. This current strain, Eurasian H5N1, is considered highly pathogenic.

The spread is expected to peak in a few weeks, as spring migration reaches its high point and ends in June when birds settle into their summer breeding positions. How HPAI spreads from farm to farm is not known but it is hoped that careful monitoring and mitigation measures among commercial layers not in place in 2015 will be able to contain the virus better than during the previous major outbreak.  

Luckily, HPAI doesn’t pose a food safety threat as the spreading of the virus to humans is rare. Avian influenza is not a foodborne disease and, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), properly cooked poultry is safe to eat and shouldn’t transmit the virus to humans.

Although consumers can expect to feel the pinch at the grocery store checkout, supply shouldn’t be a problem. Many stores have stocked up for the upcoming spring holidays and industry experts aren’t concerned about shortages.

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