Egg prices drop, but the threat from avian flu isn’t over yet : Shots

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Eye-popping egg prices have finally started to come down. Wholesale eggs in the Midwest market fell 58 cents to $3.29 a dozen at the end of January, according to USDA data.

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Eye-popping egg prices have finally started to come down. Wholesale eggs in the Midwest market fell 58 cents to $3.29 a dozen at the end of January, according to USDA data.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

You may have seen the funny internet memes about high egg prices? Like the one where a man gets down on one knee to propose, but instead of a ring, he pulls out a dozen precious eggs!

Also, egg prices have finally started to drop. “We’re seeing wholesale prices start to come down,” she says David Ortega, a food economist at Michigan State University. The wholesale price of a dozen eggs in the Midwest market fell 58 cents to $3.29 a dozen at the end of January, according to USDA data.

There is a lag between a drop in wholesale prices and what we pay at the grocery store, says Ortega, but we can expect some relief soon. I have already seen the prices drop in my local supermarket.

However, the days of $1.50 a dozen may not be back anytime soon. This is partly because inflation has increased the cost of feed, transport and labour. But the biggest factor affecting egg prices is the outbreak of bird flu – highly pathogenic avian influenza (HAPI) – which can spread quickly from flock to flock and is lethal in chickens. The CDC estimates more than 58 million birds have died or been killed due to the current outbreak.

The virus has caused an acute “shock” to the egg supply, says Ortega. And “there is a lot of uncertainty about how long this outbreak will continue.” Amid such unpredictability, Ortega says that prices are sticky. “They tend to rise quickly, but take a lot longer to come down.”

Bird flu is not new, but scientists say this current outbreak is more widespread and more lethal than the last outbreak in 2015. It was discovered in wild birds in the 50 states. Typically, wild birds do not get sick from the virus, but the circulating strain now appears to be more virulent. “We are seeing symptoms and we are seeing mortality in some wild birds,” says the avian scientist. Phillip Clauer of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “This time, it’s more deadly, says Clauer.

the latest CDC data shows that bird flu has been detected in a range of species, including black vultures and geese. There are also a few recent reports of infection in horned owls, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles.

Since bird flu began circulating last year, there have been outbreaks at poultry operations in 47 states. Outbreaks typically begin when wild birds, such as geese, infect chickens, turkeys or other waterfowl in commercial flocks or backyard flocks. Once an infection is found in any herd, the USDA authorizes the entire herd. “This highly pathogenic disease is very deadly,” says Clauer. “So the whole idea is to get on it and help the birds die in a humane way and prevent the disease from spreading further,” he explains.

In recent years farmers have increased biosecurity measures to protect their herds. “You’re trying to build barriers,” Clauer explains. For example, since the virus can spread bird droppings or a feather, workers take precautions to keep their hands, clothes and shoes clean. Tools and equipment should also be disinfected.

Farmers try to discourage waterfowl from landing in the fields near their poultry houses. “You’re setting a parameter around your poultry to protect them,” Clauer says.

The virus creates “low risk” to people, according to the CDC. The agency says bird flu viruses “they do not usually infect people,” although last spring, the CDC reported the infection of one person in Colorado who were in contact with infected poultry. The person reported fatigue and was treated with antiviral medication.

So, when will the outbreak end?

“We don’t know,” he says Dr. Yuko Sato, a veterinarian at Iowa State University. “We hope to be somewhere in the middle or hopefully towards the end,” she says. Sato says culling infected flocks takes an emotional toll on farmers. “Nobody likes to be, you know, depopulation, euthanizing birds,” she says. Then, egg producers must invest in rebuilding their flocks starting with chicks. “It takes about 16 to 18 weeks for the birds to mature to the point where they start laying eggs,” explains Sato. Therefore, there is a delay in rebuilding egg supplies.

“Our stock is still down about 5%, right now,” he explains Emily Metz, president of the American Egg Board. But she says farmers are focused on a quick recovery and continue to invest in prevention strategies to ward off bird flu. “I have farmers who have put up laser light systems to prevent migratory birds from landing on their barns,” she explains. “I have farms that are employing their workers to minimize truck traffic,” and lower the risk of contamination. The hope is that these efforts will make operations more resilient.

“Egg prices are trending down for sure,” says Metz. “I think there is relief in sight.”

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