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“The price of eggs is rising like a souffle”, says the New York Post, in response to the concerns over recent egg prices that have soared to 50%-90%+ increase on whole eggs (150%+ for liquid eggs) over just a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the price of whole chicken eggs, liquid eggs and products containing eggs will continue to rise as more birds die and eggs become more scarce. Until new healthy flocks can grow up to replace the egg-bearing birds, there is an ongoing shortage that affects consumers in the US and in countries importing eggs and egg products – including The Bahamas. Local Bahamian egg producers have not been affected to date, but are unlikely to be able to supply the entire country.
According to reports issued by the USDA APHIS*, the “H5N8 virus originated in Asia and spread rapidly along wild bird migratory pathways during 2014, including the Pacific flyway. In the Pacific flyway, the H5N8 virus has mixed with North American avian influenza viruses, creating new mixed-origin viruses.” This set of viruses includes the killer H5N2 strain and has now killed off more than 46 million birds in the USA, between December 2014 and June 2015 in 20 states nationwide.
This virus has not affected any humans and is not the same virus as the H5N1 that caused humans to get sick in Asia. This avian bird flu has affected chickens, turkeys and other commercial poultry and is spread by wild migratory birds.
Monitoring is on-going at present for presence of avian influenza in US commercial poultry operations as well as live bird markets and in wild bird flocks. Egg-bearing birds are not the same flocks used for meat production, and the USDA maintains that poultry, poultry products and wild birds are safe to eat if they are properly handled and cooked to at least 165ºF.
Products containing eggs include fast food breakfast, other breakfast sandwiches, breads, pastry, pasta, packaged sauces, dressings and even beverages. As the shortage increases, commercial buyers purchase more consumer-grade eggs, which makes retail prices even higher.
Efforts by the US government to compensate egg farmers for their unexpected losses are already exceeding the $410 million budget and are expected to hit the half-billion mark by summer. On a good note, spread of the virus is expected to recede with the warmer summer weather as the virus cannot survive in temperatures above 65ºF. However, researchers and farmers are preparing for a possible autumn resurgence when migratory fowl start moving around again. It is estimated that it will take almost two (2) years for the egg-laying hen population to be fully restocked, according to the Egg Industry Centre at Iowa State University.
Update on Avian Influenza Findings Poultry Findings Confirmed by USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories
Iowa and Minnesota are the top two egg-producing US states in a $5.7 billion poultry industry and together have suffered over a billion dollars in revenue due to this H5N2 outbreak. Once the virus is identified and farmers notice birds dying off, they are forced to decimate their entire flock in order to stave off further spreading of the disease. The “highly pathogenic” nature of the prevailing virus makes the birds very ill and to date the number of birds killed represents 12% of the whole, plus 10% of Minnesota’s turkey population.
The average chicken needs 10-12 weeks to hatch and grow up to be an egg-layer or fryer.
* USDA: United States Department of Agriculture APHIS: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Cost of Bird Flu Outbreak to Bust Budget, Agriculture Chief Says (www.bloomberg.com) 8 June 2015
Eggs prices on the rise due to avian-flu outbreak (www.nypost.com) 7 June, 2015
Scientists race to decode secrets of deadly bird flu (www.startribune.com) Wild birds brought it from Asia to Midwest, but its rapid spread is unprecedented in U.S