Will another bird flu scare crack the egg market as it rebounds?

Dive Brief:

  • The USDA said a dangerous strain of H5N2 avian influenza was discovered on a duck in Fergus County, MT, sparking a bird flu scare in the U.S. poultry industry, according to Quartz.
  • In 2015, fear over this same strain of bird flu cost American egg farmers more than $1 billion in losses over a six-month period. More than 48 million hens were killed in 223 separate outbreaks across the country, resulted in egg price increases as high as 31%.
  • The poultry industry is hopeful that recent measures to safeguard against the virus — including restricting people with egg farm access, reducing hen exposure to wild birds and droppings and utilizing protective gear when working closely to hens — will prove successful.

Dive Insight:

You only have to go back about two years to understand the devastating impact that talk of bird flu can have on the poultry industry. Once a strain was discovered in 2015, sales dropped $400 million, according to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Avian flu is a widespread problem worldwide. In the past few months, France has reported outbreaks of the highly contagious H5N8 bird flu virus, South Korea has seen a spread of a H5N6 strain of the virus, and in China, the H7N9 virus has been widespread.

Europe has recently expanded its requirements for farmers who deal with poultry and captive birds, requiring all birds to be kept indoors until the end of February to prevent recent outbreaks from affecting more poultry birds.

So far, the duck in Montana was an isolated case in the U.S., which has worked to beef up its own bird flu prevention measures. Last year, US Poultry & Egg Association released guidelines to help producers plan and prepare for emergencies. These may prove helpful in preventing and containing the virus.

The return of the epidemic could make the poultry and egg market even rockier than it already is. After an egg shortage and sky-high prices in 2015, last year was one of great surpluses. The egg supply returned to normal, but many manufacturers had already devised egg substitutes and were not buying the same quantities as before. In August, the USDA bought out $11.7 million worth of shell eggs and egg products to keep farmers afloat.

Last year, egg prices dropped to record lows, causing widespread problems for both producers and retailers. As the market is finally beginning to rebound, another ripple could bring more significant issues.

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Filed Under: Ingredients Corporate Food Safety