Even now, at the start of 2023, the Coronavirus has taken the blame for many rising costs consumers see at local grocery stores and in many aspects of life. From automobile purchases to the cost of fresh produce, prices have jumped since the onset of the most recent global pandemic. The cost of grocery items like eggs has most recently taken a substantial jump in price, but COVID-19 is not solely to blame.
Eggs are a staple in most people’s diets, whether they are eaten regularly for breakfast or used nightly for a baked dessert, eggs are a much-needed kitchen ingredient. Since COVID-19, prices of other proteins, such as chicken and beef, have increased, making eggs an affordable option for many. However, this ingredient is slipping out of shoppers’ weekly grocery budgets.
The average cost of eggs has risen more than 49% in the last year and is predicted to keep climbing until the end of the first quarter of 2023. The surge in retail price is most directly linked to the impact of the Bird Flu. Over the past six months, domesticated avian species have perished at alarming rates due to the disease. When the Bird Flu hit the United States in mid 2022, the poultry industry knew the losses in their flocks would be catastrophic. Bird Flu is not common in domesticated avian species and with modern biosecurity measures on poultry farms, it is unlikely that the disease will be transferred to the production birds. Unlikely, but not impossible.
There were 375 million laying hens in the U.S. last year, which is already down 5% from the year prior due to other shortages. Since the most recent onset, more than 57 million birds in 47 states have been affected, and 40 million egg-laying hens have died from the highly contagious Bird Flu. As a result, there are fewer eggs being produced and able to be marketed. When demand outweighs supply availability, prices go up.
Can humans contract Bird Flu? The simple answer is yes, it is possible. However, it is not common. Since the outbreak’s start, only one confirmed case has been reported in humans. You cannot contract the illness by eating chicken or eggs. The disease is transferred through saliva and feces. The chicken and eggs in the food market are clean and safe. As for any meat and eggs, it is important to wash and chill them appropriately.
To be safe, do not handle wild birds or sickly poultry or waterfowl. If handling cannot be avoided, wear protective clothing, gloves, and a mask. This disease is easily shed from bird to bird through saliva and feces.
If you have a backyard flock, there are a few things you can do to keep them protected from Bird Flu. The UDSA has resources that provide specific guidelines for keeping your poultry safe. You can check those out here. And remember to keep biosecurity at the forefront of your everyday practices:
Wash hands and boots often.
Always change clothes and shoes after traveling to a different farm.
Limit the flock’s exposure to other animal species and humans.
If adding new members to the flock, keep the new members isolated for a few days.
Never loan equipment, tools, or birds to other farmers.
How do we go forward from here? Well, for starters, remember that chicken meat and eggs are still safe to consume! The problem lies with the number of eggs currently available, and the price jump associated with the shortage. The good news is that farmers and food production agencies like the USDA are working together to bring the egg supply back to pre-bird flu levels. CNBC predicts that by mid-year, we should see prices in grocery stores return to normal.