The poultry industry, especially the egg sector, is seeing good recovery from the devastating spring outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza but is wary that the fall migration of birds could cause a recurrence with bad results.
Little may be done to control the flight of wild birds, but flight patterns are known and the industry has much better biosecurity controls in place now than was the case a few months ago. The US Department of Agriculture is testing wild birds to detect the presence of A.I. as well as taking other measures to prevent an outbreak or limit the spread should one recur.
Egg and egg product prices have been on a rollercoaster-like ride this year because of the A.I. outbreak, which was the worst in U.S. history claiming about 48 million birds, including more than 42 million chickens, mostly layers of eggs for the processing industry. In January nest run eggs (breaking stock) hit 2½-year lows around 50 cents a dozen, the lowest since June 2012. By June 2015, well into the A.I. outbreak, prices had soared 4.7 times to a record $2.35 a dozen and higher. Values then tumbled 35 percent by the first of July as it became obvious the outbreak was under control.
Prices then surged back to the June record level in early August as shortages of eggs and egg products were being realized. Since then, prices have plunged more than 50 percent to around $1.12 a dozen and above, still more than double the January 2015 price and about 20% above year-ago levels.
Helpful to egg product users during the summer were active sales of egg replacers by several companies, which have led to some tension between producers of egg replacers and the egg industry, even if the replacers were critical for users when egg product supplies were unavailable or exorbitantly priced. The USDA’s allowing of egg product imports from select countries also eased the supply stress somewhat.
Panera Bread Co.’s commitment to menu transparency is reaching new levels as the bakery cafe plans to move to cage-free eggs and a menu without antibiotics. The company said it intends to move to 100 percent cage-free eggs in US Panera Bread and St. Louis Bread Co. bakery cafe food menus by 2020. This will include shell eggs, hard boiled and liquid egg whites in addition to those used in sweet goods, soufflés and dressings, a total of more than 120 million eggs system wide annually, according to Panera.
Currently, Panera said it is at 21 percent cage-free relative to the approximately 70 million shell eggs, hard boiled and liquid egg whites prepared in cafes in 2015. Panera defines cage-free hens as those raised in indoor barns that allow full range of movement.