Eggs – they’re practically everywhere, in everything we touch, from baked goods to sauces to powdered mixes. Eggs are everywhere, that is, except the U.S., where an epidemic of the avian flu known as H5N2 has ravaged some 47 million egg-laying hens in the Midwest. As a result, “breaker” eggs – the kind pre-liquefied and sold for commercial use – are preciously rare. Now, the USDA is scrambling to update language in expired agreements that would allow them to import eggs from seven different countries, as well as the Netherlands.
“Through a rigorous process of verification by FSIS of The Netherlands government inspection system, FSIS has determined that the country’s food safety system continues to be equivalent to that of the U.S., which ensures that product is safe, wholesome and properly labeled,” the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said in a statement.
The breaker eggs, which commercial bakers and other food manufacturers use out of convenience, have jumped more than 200% in recent months. As a result, some manufacturers have even resulted to buying whole eggs by the carton and cracking them manually, citing relatively lower costs. Recently, only Canada has been approved to sell non-whole egg products to the U.S., but that’s of little comfort – typically, Canada is one of the U.S.’ biggest egg customers, under normal conditions.
Egg producers in the Netherlands were initially approved to sell eggs to the U.S. in 1987, but the contract expired as the need dissipated. Officials are now attempting to update and renew those contracts, which should happen within a few days. Seven other countries (Chile, Argentina, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal) have also been approved to export eggs to the U.S., and the supply issue is dire enough that some officials are looking to expand that list.
For consumers, egg prices have risen too – but thankfully remain relatively cheap. The average price for a dozen eggs is around $2.60, 120% higher than normal. Some grocers have placed limits on carton sales to discourage sneaky commercial buyers from capitalizing on low prices, while still others have seen sales of “designer” eggs skyrocket – with less exposure to H5N2, farms that specialize in organic, free-range, cage-free eggs have been able to keep prices closer to conventional eggs.