The outlook for prices of US eggs and egg products in light of the current outbreak of avian influenza in the United States is nothing short of impossible, said egg expert Richard Broad, vice-president of Bender, Goodman Co., Inc., at the Sosland Publishing Purchasing Seminar.
“The supply crisis will pass,” he said, “but the ramifications from this outbreak may last for years.” He mentioned egg replacers as a stopgap solution for food producers but said consumers will probably be able to tell the difference in taste and texture and may resist buying the new formulations. He noted significant obstacles to importing eggs from other countries. He said costs for eggs and egg products will increase “but how much isn’t known.” And he said some egg and egg processors will not be able to make the necessary changes to cope with what he called a staggering problem facing their industry.
“There is no playbook” on how to dispose of the millions of chicken and turkey carcasses, he added, or easy ways to repopulate commercial poultry operations with fresh birds, a process that can take months, if not years, to accomplish.
Speaking to a crowded room of seminar participants on June 1, Broad highlighted key factors facing both the domestic egg and egg products markets now that about 35 million hens in the United States have either died of the highly pathogenic strain of bird flu or been euthanized to try to contain the spread of the disease.
He said the current outbreak originated in wild migratory fowl that use the Mississippi Flyway to travel both north and south, a geographic area that happens to coincide with the 10 major U.S. egg producing states. The first outbreak was discovered in the Pacific Northwest in December 2014, although thought to be carried by migratory birds. He said scientists are not entirely sure how the disease is transmitted, naming as possibilities bird droppings, saliva, rodents, water, animal feed, dust particles, among others.
Backyard and free-range chickens probably played a role as early hosts for the virus, unlike commercial flocks that usually are confined within structures that protect them from the elements.
He said the breaking industry that supplies egg products to domestic food companies has lost more than 30% of its hens already. He offered no prognostications on how long the outbreak will last, but he said repopulating after the epidemic passes takes a significant amount of time.