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Bird Flu Is Forcing Egg Prices to Skyrocket

Remember those 5 million sad Iowa chickens, sentenced to death to stave off an avian flu epidemic? Well, industry analysts are now reporting supermarket egg prices up 58 percent from just one month ago.
Photo via Flickr user marinashemesh

Remember those 5 million sad Iowa chickens, sentenced to death to stave off an avian flu epidemic? Kind of a bummer, but at least your life won't change, right?

Wrong, pal. Get out your wallet.

Industry analysts are reporting supermarket egg prices up 58 percent from just one month ago. And wholesale eggs used in ice cream, mayo, and other tangential food products—they're called "breakers" in the biz—have shot up 162 percent since April 22.

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READ: 5 Million Chickens Are About to Be Killed to Prevent the Spread of Avian Flu

Wholesale food service juggernaut Sysco has been talking to clients (restaurants, hotels, and the like) about tweaking their menus until the heat dies down. This seems like a hard sell, especially considering the company's grim predictions: 18 months of expensive eggs ahead.

Another commercial food giant, Post Holdings Inc. (makers of Post cereals and a slew of other prepared foods), have declared the egg price crisis a "force majeure event"; they're predicting a $20 million impact in 2015 alone.

We have 300 million egg-laying hens in the US; 30 million of them have now been killed over avian flu concerns. Iowa—the nation's largest egg producer—is bird flu ground zero, but the disease has turned up in Minnesota and 13 other Midwestern states as well. In total, the USDA says that 39 million birds (turkeys included) have been confirmed with avian flu.

The vast majority of affected chickens have thus far been breaker egg producers, but this will likely shift with time. And in the near term, it's a near certainty that egg-reliant products like salad dressings and mayo will get pricier. (CNN points out that fast food breakfast sandwiches, most of which use breaker eggs, are also likely to go up.)

At the supermarket, price spikes have thus far been limited to the Midwest; consider this a glimpse into everyone's pricier future. As the highly contagious disease spreads—two chicken farms, a turkey farm, and a flock of backyard chickens turned up flu-positive this week—the costs will be borne by consumers nationwide.

It's probably worth noting here that paying a little more for your eggs probably won't make you a pauper. The 58 percent supermarket increase sounds really steep until you see what that means: Midwestern eggs now average $1.88 a dozen.

As food justice warriors like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman have long asserted, cheap eggs come at a high price in terms of animal welfare. Pollan makes no bones about encouraging you to buy $8-a-dozen eggs from happy, pastured chickens. Chances are you will ignore him, but complaining when your supermarket eggs hit $2 a dozen seems a bit uncouth.