In a scene lifted straight from an old-timey newsreel, times have grown tough; every good American needs to pitch in and tighten their belts. In the wake of an avian flu pandemic that's been devastating Midwestern farms, eggs are in increasingly short supply: The rationing has begun.
OK, so it isn't a government-ordered ration; it's probably premature to move into the basement and start polishing your egg-protection pistols. Still, this is bad.
A couple of weeks ago, we told you about the impending Eggpocalypse. Tens of millions of laying hens were being slaughtered in order to head off the flu epidemic. At that moment, the issue was mostly affecting "breakers"—shell-free eggs used in ice cream, mayo, and other wholesale food products. If you get, say, a breakfast sandwich from Wendy's or a bottle of creamy salad dressing, you're probably eating breakers.
But big food chains have been handling the breaker shortage in their own way.
This week, Whattaburger announced you could no longer access their breakfast menu around the clock (Texas stoners released a collective sigh of despair). Companies like McDonald's have been exploring egg replacements; and General Mills ordered thousands of pounds of "plant-based egg alternative" from San Francisco startup Hampton Creek. The American Bakers Association is even looking to Europe for eggs (oh, the horror), after the USDA made an emergency sign-off this week on Dutch imports.
But now, as the poultry slaughter continues unabated—44.7 million birds killed, at last count—25 percent of our egg production has gone offline. Sorry, shoppers: it's not just a breaker issue anymore.
San Antonio-based H-E-B Supermarkets, a chain found in Texas and northern Mexico, has announced a three-carton ration system at all of its stores. Additionally it will cease any commercial egg orders.
And chances are, this is only the beginning of rations to come. While many—including chief US veterinary officer John Clifford—are predicting an end to the flu crisis this summer, we're not out of the woods yet.
As Cory Martin, a spokesman for the American Bakers Association, told Reuters, for consumers: "It's going to get worse before it gets better."