American families looking to pick up Easter eggs to color at the grocery store or who just want a protein-packed breakfast are in for an unpleasant surprise.
While inflation is already slamming grocery shoppers in their pocket books, the price of eggs is predicted to surge even higher because of a bad case of the bird flu.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Inspection Service said Monday that 21 states have confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza, which is infecting and killing poultry both on commercial farms and in people's backyards.
The agency said that more than 17 million chickens and turkeys have died because of the disease. An estimated 3% of the total U.S. flock — more than 11 million egg-laying chickens — have died, as well as two million commercially raised turkeys.
Thankfully, there have been no reported cases of humans contracting the bird flu. According to the World Health Organization and the CDC, bird flu is transmitted when people come into contact with the saliva, mucous, or feces of infected birds. There is no evidence that the disease can be transmitted from poultry that has been cooked properly, and the USDA and National Turkey Federation have said that bird flu does not pose a food safety concern.
But the widespread deaths of egg-producing poultry has created a supply shock at the same time seasonal demand for eggs will increase over the upcoming Easter and Passover holidays — meaning prices are going to go up.
Shelled egg prices have spiked more than 50% to $2.88 a dozen since Feb. 8, when the first case of bird flu was identified in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana, CNET reports.
The last time bird flu swept through U.S. farms in 2015, egg prices nearly doubled and the industry lost more than $1.5 billion.
"Egg availability heading into Easter is sure to be hampered," said Brian Earnest, an animal protein economist at CoBank. Earnest spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the rising prices, which he attributed to the population of egg-laying chickens declining in recent years, going from 340 million in April 2019 to around 322 million in February 2022.
Though prices are rising, industry analysts do not expect there to be a shortage of eggs anytime soon. They say that retailers have bought enough eggs to last through the holidays and to weather the supply constraints.
Rebecca Jarvis, a correspondent with ABC News, reports that shoppers should look into apps that can save on grocery bills, such as Ibotta and Checkout 51, that give customers cashback on groceries. Another app called Basket compares food prices to find the least expensive options for shoppers in their areas.