Highly pathogenic avian influenza is once again a problem for US farmers, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has warned.
The culling of diseased flocks has raised the price of eggs at a time of rampant feed inflation.
Birds from any of the sick flocks “will not enter the food system,” the USDA said in a statement.
The deadly virus has been affecting poultry operations along the East Coast and Midwest, including top producer Iowa, where a farm was recently forced to cull nearly a million birds.
The loss of production is starting to drive up egg prices just before Easter, a time of peak demand. Even buyers are stocking up to avoid any supply disruption.
Wholesale eggs rose 10 cents to $1.60 a dozen on Wednesday, the biggest single-day gain since the start of the pandemic. And prices are likely to continue to rise in the coming weeks.
During the last outbreak in 2015, egg prices hit records after 50 million laying hens in 15 states had to be euthanized at a cost of nearly $1 billion to the federal government.
Currently, however, egg producers have been doing an effective job of stopping the spread. But one concern is the migration of wild birds, which are the main source of spread of the virus.
Outbreaks are expected to subside by June as wild bird migration also declines.
But it will not only increase the cost of the egg. If the virus spreads widely and begins to affect more commercial poultry farms, the price of chicken and turkey is likely to take a hit as well.
That would be bad news for consumers already facing inflated food prices. The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed last month that food prices increased 7% in January 2022 compared to the previous year.
An outbreak of avian influenza in 2015 led producers to kill 33 million laying hens in Iowa, the nation’s top egg producer, and 9 million birds in Minnesota, the nation’s top turkey producer, with smaller outbreaks in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
The disease sent egg and turkey prices nationwide soaring for months, with the cost of eggs rising 61% at one point and prices for boneless turkey breasts rising 75% and without skin between May and July 2015.
So far there have been no confirmed cases of bird flu infecting humans, the USDA said.