Turkey, the dominant poultry at Thanksgiving, could be hard to come by for millions across the United States this year, as experts warn of shortages and price hikes ahead of the holidays.
With Thanksgiving on Thursday, experts have pointed to the problem of ballooning turkey costs along with the reduced supply of birds, especially large ones. Either way could indicate more expensive turkey, smaller turkeys, or no turkey at all for many at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.
A prolonged outbreak of bird flu infected millions of turkeys ahead of the holiday season.
The virus was first detected in Indiana in February, and has infected chickens and turkeys in at least 46 states, PBS News reported. Avian influenza also affected poultry in Europe and Canada.
By late October, more than 6 million turkeys had died in the United States as a result of bird flu, 3% of national turkey production, The Washington Post reported.
Turkey’s farmers say their flocks either died instantly from the virus or were euthanized to prevent infection.
“It’s devastating,” said Heidi Distel. The Diestel family operates the Diestel Family Turkey Ranch in Sonora, California, about two hours outside of San Francisco. Their farm lost more than 150,000 turkeys in August after bird flu hit one of their flock.
Inflation has also made buying turkeys before Thanksgiving a challenge, with prices for the bird soaring since last year.
The price of turkey is typically up about $5, or 21%, compared to 2021, Axios reports, citing the informal U.S. Farm Bureau’s annual Thanksgiving dinner survey.
Fortunately, turkey prices have declined somewhat since the survey was conducted using prices from Oct. 18-31.
But there are concerns the increased prices could affect food banks, which provide fowl and other Thanksgiving staples to families in need.
Stockpiles of food previously pumped from the government’s pandemic aid now see cash donations not covering much.
“The amount of food being donated now in the charity food system is not meeting the demand for food assistance,” Katie Fitzgerald, president of the nonprofit Feeding America, told Marketplace.
Food banks have already had a lot of support through the pandemic, with the help of the government. She added that a lot of this money is drained.
Food banks also report that the donations received reflect a sharp price hike affecting many.
For Beans and Bread, a shelter and food pantry outside Baltimore, Maryland, rising food prices have led to fewer donations and people replacing cheap poultry in place of their beloved turkey.
“It’s cheaper with chicken.” So some donors turn to us to buy chicken,” Beans and Bread volunteer coordinator Victoria Eze told Marketplace.