WASHINGTON – Nearly 7 million commercial chickens and turkeys were scheduled to be euthanized following outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) the week of March 28, according to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture. Outbreaks were verified in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota during the week, with the largest outbreak at an operation in Osceola, Iowa, with more than 5 million commercial layer chickens.

Egg and egg product prices continued to surge during the week as cases of HPAI increased. Dried egg product prices have more than doubled since early March, according to Milling & Baking News, a sister publication to Food Business News.

More than 17 million birds have been destroyed. An egg processor told Milling & Baking News experts believe the current strain is five-times more virulent than previous variants. Even with improved and industry-standard control measures in place, the high-rate of prevalence in this year’s strain was making it difficult to control.  The virus is spread by migrating wild birds.

A research brief published by CoBank, Denver, said the spread of HPAI is straining the egg supply chain.

“US egg producers have been hard-pressed to align supplies with market demand over the last two years,” said Brian Earnest, lead animal protein economist with CoBank. “The US layer flock typically expands ahead of the surge in demand for Easter and contracts during the summer months. But recent losses due to HPAI have combined with high feed costs and other challenges that are severely limiting flock size management.”   

The US table egg layer flock trended ahead of target growth in 2019, however, the annual supply has declined by more than 5% since then, according to CoBank. The decline in supply stems from extreme shifts in consumer behavior during 2020. Although grocery demand skyrocketed during the onset of the pandemic, egg producers were not initially set up to shift lost foodservice volumes into retail channels.