Apr 12, 2022 - News

Bird flu driving up price of turkey and eggs

Data: USDA; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The price of turkey and eggs has skyrocketed because of a highly contagious strain of avian influenza sweeping across the U.S.

  • Arkansas, the second-largest chicken-producing state, hasn't reported any cases. But this is a new bird flu strain that should put the whole country on "high alert," veterinarian and associate professor at Ohio State University, Andrew Bowman, told Axios.

Driving the news: The increases come as the Consumer Price Index is expected to show continued rising inflation in its latest report Tuesday morning, just ahead of the egg demand-heavy Easter holiday.

The big picture: Food prices have already been trending higher due to disruptions in the supply chain from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

  • Meanwhile, more than 21 million birds grown as part of commercial chicken, turkey and egg markets have died or been euthanized since February to prevent the spread of avian flu.

By the numbers: According to market analysis company, Urner Barry, the average wholesale price for a dozen large eggs in the Midwest was $2.94 on Monday, up 185% from $1.03 a year earlier.

  • The wholesale price per pound of fresh turkey breast closed at $5 per pound Monday, up nearly 200% from the same day a year earlier, according to Urner Barry.

Yes, but: While chicken prices also are higher, the increase is being driven by continued demand for the meat as a cost-effective protein and lower industry supply rather than by bird flu, Russ Whitman, senior vice president with Urner Barry, told Axios.

The intrigue: The disease spreads through migratory waterfowl and has largely stayed in the Northeast and Midwest. The Southeast, where most of the country's chicken meat is grown, has not yet been impacted.

  • Typically bird flu will dissipate as the weather turns warmer, but this particular strain is new to North America, Bowman told us, so no one knows when it may peter out.

What they're saying: Tyson Foods, the country's largest producer of chicken, confirmed in February that bird flu infected a flock at one of its contract farms in Kentucky. The company declined to provide an update.

  • Both Simmons Foods and George's Inc., headquartered in Northwest Arkansas, did not respond to Axios' requests for comment.
  • Perdue Farms of Salisbury, Maryland, said none of its chicken farms have been impacted, but two of its turkey farm operations in Indiana were infected in February.
  • Cargill Corp. of Minnetonka, Minnesota, confirmed that two of its contract turkey farms in Missouri were impacted last week.
  • Growers for Hormel's turkey brand, Jennie-O, have reported cases of avian influenza in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Flashback: In 2015, a bird flu outbreak in the Midwest impacted the production of table eggs and turkey meat. Though broiler chickens weren't heavily infected, exports dropped by $1.1 billion, or 26%. Egg exports dropped 13% and turkey by 23%.

  • USDA estimated the cost to the federal government was more than $1 billion — $879 million to manage the crisis and about $200 million in indemnities for lost birds.

Disclosure: Reporter Worth Sparkman formerly worked for Tyson Foods.

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