Bird flu is pushing up egg prices across the United States

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The price of eggs has risen in recent weeks, in part due to a huge bird flu wave that has infected nearly 27 million chickens and turkeys in the United States, forcing many farmers to “depopulate” or destroy their animals to prevent further spread. .

The virus has affected many different bird species, including penguins and bald eagles. But the spread among poultry has been enormous, especially among chickens raised for their eggs.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced another outbreak, this in two flocks in Idaho, making it the 27th state where the virus has been found since February.

According to the USDA, the price of a dozen eggs in November hovered around $ 1. Right now, the price is $ 2.95 and rising.

The disease affects commercial birds, hobbyist flocks and wild birds, and spreads via secretions and leads to paralysis, swelling and decreased egg production. There have been no human cases of these avian influenza viruses detected in the United States.

So far, about 1.3 percent of all U.S. chickens have been affected by this outbreak and about 6 percent of the U.S. turkey herd, said Grady Ferguson, senior research analyst at Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data platform.

Ferguson tracked down the last major outbreak of bird flu in 2015, saying that this outbreak has the potential to become 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 chickens affected was 0.02 percent, which eventually rose to about 2.5 percent of those infected. chickens and 50 million destroyed birds.

How the worst bird flu outbreak in American history costs you money

“We are above the proliferation rate we saw in 2015,” Ferguson said. ‘The last time was 81 per cent of cases in the fourth and fifth month when things exploded. What the prices of chicken eggs did last time has affected the market for years. We’re two months into the outbreak now, and the security protocols have not worked. I do not want to be a Chicken Little, but I think it will be worse than last time. ”

He said that in addition to higher prices for a carton of a dozen eggs, consumers will “see higher prices for all baked goods and a wide range of processed foods from cupcakes to salad dressings. Restaurants will have a harder time justifying why they should give you “An omelet with three eggs for a dollar. And on the chicken side, the situation is worse this time than it was last time.”

The majority of the birds to be destroyed last time were laying hens and hens (these are sexually immature birds that will be lagging), and very few broilers (the birds consumers eat) were affected, Ferguson said. So far in this outbreak, 9 percent of the affected animals are broilers, he said, which will lead to already high prices for chicken becoming even higher.

Tom Super, senior vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council, said chicken breeders “double and triple” on biosecurity on chicken farms, adding protocols like showers for workers as they walk in and out of a facility, and antiseptic deck baths for trucks, so that infection does not move from one plant to another.

Super said that bird flu will increase the price of chicken, but that it is only one of several price pressures right now. He enumerates higher animal feed costs, higher fuel costs for animal transportation and even the Biden administration’s decision to allow higher levels of ethanol in gasoline, further driving up the price of corn and soy, which are crucial for animal feed.

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Emily Metz, chair of the American Egg Board, said about 5 percent of laying hen flocks have been affected so far, but that she is more optimistic about the course of this outbreak.

“Bundle 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 biosafety was not where it should be. We have invested in big changes. ”

She described new high-tech protocols such as laser light systems to ward off migratory birds to prevent them from landing on farmland or buildings. And while she admits prices are rising, she points to farmers’ input costs as a bigger factor than the ghost of bird flu.

“It’s alarming and I share the concern about affordability. But eggs are still one of the most affordable proteins, apart from none,” she said.

Andrew Van Dam contributed to this report.

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