Egg Shortages and Rising Prices a Result of Avian Influenza?

Avian influenza

Grocery shoppers are beginning to notice that egg prices have more than doubled since April and will also experience some shortages because of avian influenza striking the United States poultry industry. Shortages will likely last through January, according to those in the food industry.

Avian influenza was first reported in North America when it was discovered in British Columbia in December 2014. Since then, 20 states have reported the disease with 15 of those being poultry producing states and five reporting cases in wild birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) states the first cases were in wild birds over Washington and spread to wild populations over river valleys in the Pacific Northwest, Central and Mississippi regions.

Iowa, which largely depends on poultry and egg production, was struck hard with avian influenza with a loss of nearly 30 million chickens at commercial farms. The foul were either sick or had to be killed out of safety concerns and to prevent spread of the disease. The loss is a reduction of 10 percent of egg producing hens, according to officials.

The loss in the Midwest is the primary factor for egg prices rising 120 percent since April when the avian influenza was first reported at the farms. On average, prices went up from $1.19 a dozen to $2.62 a dozen, according to food commodity market research firm Urner Barry. The loss is also expected to have a far-reaching impact into the overall food industry because egg producing farms also supply products for other manufactured foods like frozen dinners, salad dressings, bread, and ice cream. Liquid eggs are also supplied to millions of restaurants and hotels across the country.

Many food vendors began getting notices of shortages in early May stating some suppliers are out of eggs and to expect back orders and higher prices until January. Food vendors were advised to stock up to cover the next month because of the egg shortages and higher prices related to avian influenza.

The USDA said there are actually several strains of bird flu and it is important to note the differences. Asian bird flu is highly dangerous while the simple strain found in North America is not deadly. However, the strain found in Washington is a mutated hybrid of the Asian and North American strains that scientists have never seen before. While the USDA thinks it is relatively non-threatening overall, officials are still taking utmost precautions. Both the American Egg Council and the USDA are trying to educate consumers about bird flu and safety.

The facts are:

  • No person in the United States has reported becoming sick with bird flu. A Canadian exposed to the disease while in China died in 2014 after returning home and is the first reported death in North America.
  • The risk of avian influenza making people sick in this country is low, according to the CDC. The strains found in the United States are not as deadly as others found across the world.
  • No sick birds made their way into food processing plants, according to the USDA. There are inspectors assigned to each of the plants to ensure safety measures are in place.
  • Consumers cannot get sick from eating properly cooked eggs, chicken or turkey. All poultry should be cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees or higher to be safe, under general food safety standards, according to the USDA.

Food market researchers indicate consumers could see higher prices in a variety of foods over the next few months because of egg shortages due to avian influenza. Health officials also advise those with backyard coops or those living near areas with a lot of wild birds, like lakes and rivers, need to be cautious and report any sick bird to health authorities.

By Melody Dareing

LA Times: Avian influenza epidemic spurs nationwide rise in egg prices

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): H5 Viruses in the United States

U.S. Department of Agriculture: USDA Questions and Answers Food Safety and Avian Influenza

Photo Courtesy of Brenda Gottsabend Flickr Page – Creative Commons License