chick and egg
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By Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

A few days ago, I walked into Trader Joe’s and was met with a storm of people and an empty egg section. An employee rushed by and told the 4-5 people and me bustling around to come back Tuesday and be early because the eggs were flying off the shelves at $2.75 a dozen. How did this happen? Not but a year ago, eggs were expensive at $3. Prices at the grocery store have been steadily increasing, but eggs are soaring above the rest at 32.2% of what they were in late 2021 (, Food Price Outlook, 2023). Is this purely the result of the Bird Flu sweeping the country, or is something else adding pressure to our pockets? 

National reports from the CDC say that only three states are clean of Bird flu in domestic poultry, and 58 million birds have died as of Feb 8, 2023. Previously, the largest outbreak of Bird Flu in 2015 killed around 50 million birds and reached only half the number of states, so this is undoubtedly the largest Bird Flu outbreak the U.S. has seen. The Valley Ag Voice article from August 2022 about the Avian flu explains in detail the depopulation and the full halt a poultry farm endures if infected with Avian Influenza. In short, every bird on the property must be killed, burned, and all equipment and facilities must be deep cleaned. Certainly, Avian Influenza has the potential to inflate the price of poultry products. Still, there is reason to believe that there are other influences on the current market. 

The death of 58 million birds and a halt in production is a loss, no matter what. However, it may not be the only cause of the 30% inflation of eggs. According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service Poultry and Egg Production census of 2017, the number of poultry by inventory was 2.25 billion birds. Assuming the egg industry has not grown since 2017 (highly unlikely given the number of people staying home starting with the pandemic), the 58 million birds that have died between February 2022 and 2023 make up 2.5% of the domestic poultry in the U.S. Egg-laying birds only make up a fraction of the overall poultry industry, however, the bird flu statistics by the CDC and CDFA report total poultry numbers. Although no statistics show the virus has hit poultry industries the hardest, it’s likely that the losses to the virus are not the only contributors to the price increase of eggs. 

Many are concerned that the inflation of eggs results from price gouging by distributors. The Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton’s website lists a press release titled “AG Paxton Files Lawsuit to Halt Price Gouging by Cal-Maine Foods, Inc.” Cal-Maine is the largest egg provider in the nation; just some of their products include Egglands Best, Land-O-Lakes, Grain 4, and Farmhouse Eggs. Although the Texas attorney general released this report in 2020, similar headlines have recently been released by Farm Action: “Cracking Down on Egg Industry’s Excuses: It’s Price Gouging” (Jan 25, 2023). Furthermore, “There have been no positive tests for HPAI (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza) at any of Cal-Maine Foods’ owned or contracted production facilities as of Dec 28, 2022.” reports this in Cal-Maine Foods Reports Record Results for Second Quarter Fiscal 2023. This page also reports “record sales” for Cal-Maine are due to the reduced supply brought on by the virus, coupled with strong consumer demand. Although the infection cannot be why producers like Cal-Maine have had to raise prices, Cal-Maine is filling the supply gap while also increasing the security and cleanliness of their facilities. Although this doesn’t merit a massive jump in price, there is still more that could.

It’s important to bring attention to the increased cost of production inputs because of the higher cost of eggs. Fuel and poultry feed costs have skyrocketed, making up a significant portion of input costs. Distribution has also become increasingly strained for this highly perishable good. Some even believe that the significant consumer switch to cage-free eggs has caused egg producers to invest large amounts in infrastructure change. Although large egg producers may still be able to report “Record Results for Second Quarter Fiscal 2023”, these costs have certainly hit smaller producers hard, not to mention the largest outbreak of HPAI in the U.S. on record. 

There is still a lot of doubt about why the cost of eggs has skyrocketed compared to the rest of grocery goods. There is no doubt, however, that input and infrastructure costs have increased for both small and large producers. The increased demand and decreased supply brought on by the virus could be the reason for the significant jump in cost at the grocery store.

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