Check the egg prices at your grocery store and you’re likely to do a double take.
Egg prices soared nearly 60% late last year compared to about a year before, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index. The average price for a dozen Grade A large eggs in December in the U.S. was $4.25 compared to $1.79 in December 2021, reports the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That’s the highest annual increase in egg prices since 1973.
The main cause for these skyrocketing costs is the deadliest outbreak of avian flu in history. More than 57.8 million birds in both commercial and backyard flocks have been affected since the outbreak was first detected in February last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Chickens, turkeys, and ducks have been affected in 47 states.
Before this outbreak, the largest loss was 50.5 million birds that died during an avian flu outbreak in 2015.
What Is Avian Flu?
Officially known as highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, the avian flu can race rapidly through a flock. It can be spread through feces, feathers, or direct contact. It is highly contagious and can be found in poultry, as well as wild birds like ducks.
Birds often die once they’ve been infected by the avian flu. Sometimes farmers will cull an entire flock to stop the illness from spreading if some birds become sick.
Interestingly, birds raised for meat (broilers) aren’t as affected by the disease as layers, which are birds raised for their eggs. The life cycle of a broiler is shorter, so they aren’t as susceptible to disease. That’s why chicken meat prices have not risen like egg prices.
The climbing price of eggs was particularly evident toward the end of last year when demand also increased around the holidays. Inflation and supply chain issues have also had an impact on the availability and feed supply.
In addition, the demand for eggs may have been driven by the fact that in the time of rising inflation, consumers were looking for less-expensive proteins for their diets.
When Will Egg Prices Drop?
Shoppers have become used to seeing empty refrigerator shelves where cartons of eggs have been stacked. If eggs are in stock, sometimes there are signs limiting the quantity that can be purchased.
The good news is that more eggs are being delivered and once supply catches up with demand, prices should start to drop.
About 11% more eggs were delivered to stores in a recent week, and deliveries of future orders are expected to be up 14%. In a report issued Jan. 9, the USDA said that the egg supplies are “light to mostly moderate” while retail demand is “moderate to fairly good.”
The USDA says that, “Eggs remain a key part of many consumer’s new year’s diet-focused resolutions, most of which are still being pursued, albeit perhaps, with dwindling enthusiasm. Demand from egg breakers is returning to more normal patterns as holiday-disrupted breaking schedules return to full operation.”
There are more than 300 million egg-laying chickens in the U.S., so farmers are working quickly to handle shortages.
“The good news is that egg farms are recovering quickly. In fact, most of the egg farms that were affected by HPAI this year have recovered and are back to producing eggs,” Emily Metz, president and CEO of the American Egg Board, told the industry publication Progressive Grocer.
“Nationwide, according to USDA, we have approximately 6% fewer hens laying eggs right now than we might normally, so egg farms are recovering quickly, but we’re not all the way back yet.”