Egg prices in the US continue to rise as over 11 million egg-laying chickens — about 3% of the total flock in the US - have died or been culled due to an ongoing bird flu outbreak in North America.
In total, over 17 million birds have died due to Eurasian H5 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in the outbreak which began earlier this year.
Egg prices rose to $2.88 per dozen as of Saturday, about a 52% increase since the first case of the virus was detected in a domesticated flock on February 8 and the highest price since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, according to The Wall Street Journal.
A number of countries have temporarily banned imports from US states where bird flu is present, with concerns that top buyers such as Mexico, China and Cuba could import less poultry due to the outbreak, Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council in Tucker, Georgia, told Bloomberg.
The number of egg-laying birds has been low since the beginning of the pandemic. The bird flu outbreak and feed shortages caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine could further threaten egg supplies.
A report by CoBank, a national cooperative bank serving the industry in rural America, stressed that outbreaks were leading to tens of thousands to over five million birds being culled on each affected farm, adding that "it’s hard to say how many more will be lost."
The spike in egg prices comes as the Easter holiday draws closer and demand rises. The threat to egg supplies also comes as the Jewish community prepares to celebrate Passover, a holiday when many recipes require large amounts of eggs.
Turkey flocks are also being hit by the bird flu outbreak, with Russ Whitman, senior vice president at market research firm Urner Barry, telling The Wall Street Journal that as turkey supplies are already tight and demand is likely to rise, prices could increase even more. At the moment, turkey breasts are already $4.45 a pound, the highest since the avian influenza outbreak of 2015.
The virus has been detected in domesticated flocks in almost half of US states: New Hampshire, Missouri, Nebraska, Maine, Wisconsin, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Illinois, Kansas, Iowa, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana, Connecticut, New York, Michigan, Kentucky and Virginia.
Hundreds of cases of wild birds have been reported in most of those states – Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Delaware, Alabama, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts and Tennessee – in addition to South and North Carolina, and Georgia.
The first confirmed case of HPAI in a US commercial flock since 2020 was detected in a turkey flock in Indiana earlier this month. The flock was infected with the H5N1 subtype, the same strain detected in mid-January in wild birds in North Carolina when the first American cases of HPAI this season were detected.
While the risk to the general public's health is considered low, some people who have job-related or recreational exposure to birds may have a higher risk of infection. The CDC stated that it "is watching this situation closely and taking routine preparedness and prevention measures in case this virus changes to pose a greater human health risk."
A large number of bird flu outbreaks have been reported throughout Europe, Africa and Asia in recent weeks and months, mostly due to the H5N1 subtype, which comes from the H5 lineage, according to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The organization warned that a further increase in outbreaks is expected in the coming months.