April 20, 2024

An outbreak of the bird flu could make future trips to the grocery store more expensive.

The average price of a dozen Grade A large eggs came in at just under $3 in February, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. Although this is well below highs of $4.82 a carton seen in January 2023, it marks an almost 50% increase from lows of around $2 in late summer and early fall.

The sky-high early 2023 prices of the grocery cart staple — which had more than doubled from a year prior — were due in large part to a massive outbreak of the bird flu. With the cost of eggs on an upward trend, another outbreak of the virus in some of the biggest poultry-producing parts of the U.S. could push egg prices way up once again.

Cal-Maine, the largest producer and distributor of eggs in the U.S., said Tuesday that one of its facilities in Texas tested positive for the virus, leading to the culling of 1.6 million laying hens — approximately 3.6% of its total flock. The company temporarily ceased production at the facility to carry out protocols prescribed by the USDA and is working to minimize disruption to customers, the company said. Cal-Maine controls about 20% of the U.S. egg market.

The bird flu can’t be transmitted through “safely handled and properly cooked” eggs, according to the USDA, and no eggs have been recalled. Avian flu is caused by infection with avian influenza Type A viruses, which naturally spread among wild aquatic birds and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. The virus has been detected in U.S. wild aquatic birds, commercial poultry and other flocks since January 2022, with 1,116 reported outbreaks of avian flu in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Average chicken prices ticked down by 4 cents from January to February of this year, but are up 6 cents from a year ago today, coming in at $1.95 last month.

And the virus is spreading beyond chickens. The U.S. government confirmed Tuesday that the highly pathogenic avian influenza was detected in several dairy herds in New Mexico, and is in the process of confirming a handful of cases in Idaho and Texas, which is the largest cattle producer in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also confirmed Monday that a person with direct contact with dairy cattle tested positive for the H5N1 virus in Texas — the second U.S. case since 2022.

Texas Department of State Health Services reaffirmed that the risk to the general public remains low and there’s no direct risk to the commercial milk supply. Dairy producers are simply required to destroy or divert milk that comes from any infected cows, the agency said, noting that pasteurization kills avian flu viruses.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has said that milk loss from sick cows “is too limited to have a major impact on supply” — meaning that there should be little, if any, price impacts on milk.

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