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Eggs are about to get way more expensive – but not for the reason you imagine

Egg

Eggs are a wonderful and delicious source of protein and healthy fat, and they’re cheap to boot – or at least they used to be. Experts predict that egg prices will skyrocket around the country soon, if they haven’t already. Is it animal rights activists bemoaning the treatment of chickens? Is it the yuppie set demanding healthier (and more expensive) free-range, organic, small batch, artisan, hand-crafted single malt eggs? No, unfortunately – according to multiple reports, bird flu has decimated a large portion of the egg-laying commercial chicken population.

“One of our suppliers has been directly impacted by avian influenza despite their taking appropriate biosecurity precautions,” Lisa McComb, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s, told the New York Times. “We proactively developed contingent supply plans, and we do not anticipate an impact to our ability to supply eggs to our restaurants and serve our customers.”

The first case of avian flu was reported in Oregon last December, and thus far the situation has only gotten worse. By the end of January alone, a total of seven instances had been reported in Oregon and Washington state. Formally known as H5N2, the bird flu has since spread across the U.S., plaguing farmers from California to the Midwest.

Of the 40 million turkeys and chickens believed to be affected by the virus, a reported 80% are egg-laying hens used in commercial egg production. No one’s sure how the virus (which is typically confined to Asia) entered the U.S., though the USDA reckons that a migratory bird likely brought it over. Even if that’s true, many farmers aren’t taking enough precautions to quarantine it.

“We’ve had circumstances recently where folks have been using pond water, for example, to feed and to water their birds,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told NPR on Thursday. Well, that’s a problem because the pond water could be contaminated.”

Eggs themselves have already begun to climb in price. Wholesale egg prices are up 85% at some grocery stores, but the eggs consumers buy in cartons are, for now, the least affected. Most of the eggs contaminated were set aside to be sold as liquid, pre-beaten eggs, the kind used by many restaurants for quick-cooking egg dishes. Those eggs have more than doubled in price, going from $0.63 per dozen to $1.50 per dozen since late April. It’s assumed that other foodstuffs that require eggs (mostly breads, pastas and other baked goods) will rise in price eventually as well.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that despite not being totally sure of how the virus spreads (part of the issue with containing it), doctors are confident that it doesn’t affect humans.