Nov 16, 2022 - News

Widespread bird flu lingers and drives up food prices

Confirmed bird flu outbreaks
Data: USDA; Map: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

An outbreak of highly contagious avian influenza that started in February has persisted all year, infecting more than 50.3 million birds, the USDA estimates.

Reality check: That's as many animals as were impacted by the dramatic outbreak of 2014-2015.

Driving the news: Large turkeys could be harder to find for Thanksgiving this year due to the disease, Axios' Kelly Tyko and Emily Peck report.

The big picture: Food prices, already high from inflation and supply chain issues, are impacted because infected animals are euthanized to prevent further spread of disease. Bird flu effects commercial chicken, turkey and egg production.

By the numbers: The disease, which is not known to be harmful to humans, has been detected in 46 states this year, impacting 264 commercial flocks and more than 350 non-commercial — so-called backyard — flocks.

Data from market analysis company Urner Barry, shows the average wholesale price for a dozen large eggs in the Midwest was $4.03 on Tuesday, up 217% from $1.27 a year earlier and 110% from $1.91 as of Feb. 1.

  • The wholesale price of whole, frozen 16-pound turkeys Monday was $1.85 per pound, an increase of more than 29% from the same day a year earlier.
  • Demand for eggs due to holiday baking contributes to the prices, Russ Whitman, senior vice president with Urner Barry, told Axios.

Meanwhile, chicken prices are down slightly because there's plenty of production and prices are low, Whitman said.

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast cost $1.05 per pound wholesale on Monday, down from $1.88 a year earlier.

What they're saying: "I would say this one is right up there with with 2014-2015 [outbreak] in terms of its effect on birds in total numbers, and it's worse it seems in terms of duration and number of states affected," Timothy McDermott, assistant professor with Ohio State University, told Axios.

  • McDermott noted that the migration of birds south for the winter is mostly complete, so spread of the disease should slow.
  • Yes, but: "We'll have to see what happens as we get into late winter and migrations start back from south to north," he said.

Flashback: 2015's outbreak in the Midwest impacted the production of table eggs and turkey meat. Though broiler chickens weren't heavily infected, exports dropped 26%. Egg exports fell 13% and turkey by 23%.

  • The 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.

See an interactive version of the map


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios NW Arkansas.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More NW Arkansas stories

No stories could be found

NW Arkansaspostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios NW Arkansas.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more