Egg prices are expected to continue to rise just in time for Easter as more states are hit by an outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza A.
H5N1 bird flu viruses have been detected in wild birds and commercial and backyard poultry in 24 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspective Service.
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Standard practice in the poultry industry is to destroy all infected and exposed birds to stop the spread of the virus, meaning there are far fewer egg-laying hens to meet the upcoming demand for Easter eggs.
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Eggs are also a symbol for the Jewish holiday Passover and a fixture on families’ Seder plates.
Why did egg prices go up?
Egg prices typically see a spike in late March to early April – depending on when Easter falls – as demand increases.
Often, the holiday is when retailers discount eggs. But the average weekly price for large eggs is 44% higher than this time last year, according to USDA data.
Eggs prices were up 11.4% in February from a year earlier and were up 2.2% from January, according to the latest Consumer Price Index data published in March.
The wholesale cost for a carton of eggs in the Midwest jumped 60% from March 25 to April 1 to $ 2.47.
That’s still below the peak price in late March 2020, when pandemic and Easter demand collided and caused wholesale egg prices to more than triple to an all-time high of $ 3.07 a dozen.
By far the hardest-hit state has been Iowa, the nation’s leading egg producer and home to 46 million chickens on farms as of February, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
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Is it safe to eat eggs amid avian flu?
According to USDA’s outbreak tracking, more than 13 million hens have been killed in Iowa in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.
Nationwide, the outbreak has affected nearly 18 million commercial table egg layer hens and nearly 2 million turkeys.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the risk to the general public’s health is low.
“So far, current H5N1 bird flu viruses lack changes seen in the past that have been associated with viruses spreading easily among poultry, infecting people more easily, and causing severe illness in people,” the CDC said in a March update about the outbreak.
Only one human case of the H5N1 virus has been reported. It was found in January in a person in the United Kingdom who did not have any symptoms and who raised birds that became infected.
No human infections have been identified in the US
The CDC and USDA said poultry and eggs that are properly prepared and cooked are safe to eat.
“The proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F kills bacteria and viruses, including H5N1 bird flu viruses,” according to the CDC.
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