The recent worldwide outbreak of H5N1 avian flu viruses is forcing American farmers to kill millions of egg-laying hens, resulting in reduced egg supplies and higher costs around the country in the worst outbreak of bird flu to hit the United States since 2015.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s daily Midwest regional egg report on April 11, the price of a dozen large grade A white eggs for retailers in the Midwest reached between $2.80 and $2.89, more than double the $1.25 cost in March 2022.
For humans, “the risk to the general public’s health from current H5N1 bird flu viruses is low,” and the virus is “primarily an animal health issue,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the flu is very deadly for poultry stocks.
The USDA’s standard protocol is to kill infected flocks to curb the spread of the disease, due to the flu’s deadliness and ease of spread to domesticated poultry.
Higher feed costs and supply chain logjams were already driving up the price of many food items in 2022 due to the Russia–Ukraine conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, with eggs being no exception.
The cost spike for eggs in Spring 2022 is being driven in particular by the highly infectious bird flu, according to Brian Earnest, lead protein industry analyst at CoBank, which provides financial services to agribusinesses.
Easter weekend is usually the peak season for the industry, when high demand normally pushed prices to about $2, said Earnest, which is far lower than they were in his latest report.
Retailers will often “take a loss on eggs to draw in store traffic,” said Earnest, who noted there is usually an increase in demand around Easter or Christmas, when people are more likely to bake.
“We’ll see a reduced price on-shelf for eggs,” he said.
He commented that although wholesale egg prices are rising, it does not mean that supermarkets will pass on those costs to consumers.
Retail promotional activity was very limited and offered little incentive for shoppers to buy beyond immediate needs, according to the USDA’s weekly Egg Markets Overview report, from April 8.
Some stores appear to be coping with higher costs by eliminating their egg promotions rather than raise prices, but prices are eventually likely to go up the longer this crisis continues.
“I would expect we’re going to see at least a 30 or 40 percent premium on top of [typical prices] through the summer months this year as a result of the tighter supply,” Earnest told CNN Business.
The number of egg-laying hens was relatively low, even before the avian flu hit the United States this year.
Frozen or dry egg stocks are “down significantly from what they typically are,” said Earnest, who believes this is a sign that there will be some egg shortages later in 2022.