According to the USDA, the price of a dozen eggs in November was hovering around a dollar. At the moment, this price is at $2.95 and is on the rise.
The disease affects commercial birds, herds of amateur backyard chickens, and wild birds, and is spread by excretions and leads to paralysis, swelling and reduced egg production. No human cases of avian influenza have been detected in the United States.
So far, about 1.3 percent of all chickens in the United States have been affected by this outbreak and about 6 percent of the US turkey flock, said Grady Ferguson, senior research analyst at Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data platform.
Ferguson tracked the last major outbreak of bird flu in 2015, saying the outbreak could be even more significant and disruptive to the poultry and egg markets. During the last epidemic, at this point in the outbreak, 66 days after the first detection, the percentage of total infected chickens was 0.02 percent, eventually rising to about 2.5 percent of infected chickens and 50 million birds destroyed.
“We’ve outgrown the prevalence we saw in 2015, and we’re going beyond it,” Ferguson said. Last time, 81 percent of cases were in the fourth and fifth months, with things erupting. Chicken egg prices last affected the market for years. It’s been two months since the outbreak now, and safety protocols haven’t worked. I don’t want to become a little chicken, but I think it will be worse than last time.”
In addition to higher prices for a carton of 12 eggs, he said, consumers will see higher prices for all baked goods and a variety of processed foods from cupcakes to salad dressing. Restaurants will have a hard time justifying why they’d give you a three-egg omelette for $1. And with regard to chicken meat, the situation is worse this time than it was last time.”
The majority of birds that had to be destroyed last time, Ferguson said, were hens and frontals (these are sexually immature birds that would be layers) and very few broilers (consumer-eating birds) were affected. So far in this outbreak, he said, 9 percent of the infected animals are broiler chickens, which will drive up the already high chicken prices.
Tom Sober, senior vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council, said chicken farmers are “doubling and tripling” on biosecurity on chicken farms, adding protocols such as showers for workers as they enter and exit the facility, and disinfectant tire baths for trucks so that infections are not transmitted from a facility to another.
Super said bird flu will add to the cost of chicken, but it’s just one of many price pressures right now. It lists higher animal feed costs, higher fuel costs for transporting animals, and even the Biden administration’s decision to allow higher levels of ethanol in gasoline, driving up prices for corn and soybeans essential to feeding animals.
About 5 percent of laying hens flocks have been affected so far, Emily Metz, president of the American Egg Council, said, but she is more optimistic about the course of this outbreak.
“The bottom line is that we started a little earlier than we did in 2015 [with biosecurity protocols]She said. “We learned some hard lessons in 2015, that our biosecurity was not where it should be. We have invested in huge changes.”
She described new high-tech protocols such as laser light systems to fend off migratory birds to prevent them from landing on farmland or buildings. And while she acknowledges that prices are rising, she points to farmers’ input costs as a bigger factor than the specter of bird flu.
“It’s concerning, and I share the concern about affordability. But eggs are still one of the most affordable proteins, without exception.
Andrew Van Dam contributed to this report.
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