United Egg Producers: It could be 1-2 years before US egg industry recovers from avian flu

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

United Egg Producers CEO: 'Our world changed on April 20 and it changed forever'
United Egg Producers CEO: 'Our world changed on April 20 and it changed forever'

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It could be one to two years before the US egg industry is firing on all cylinders again following the latest avian flu outbreak, says United Egg Producers, a co-op which owns 95% of the nation’s egg-laying hens.

Speaking on a conference call organized by the American Egg Board and United Egg Producers earlier this month, UEP president and CEO Chad Gregory said 35 million egg layers had been impacted since April 20, of which 30 million were dedicated to the egg products industry.

On the plus side, however, there have been no new outbreaks of H5N2 reported in egg-laying hens since May 29 (subsequent outbreaks have mostly impacted turkeys – taking the most recent figure of birds affected to more than 47 million), and the egg industry is hoping that the worst may be over, he said.

Our world changed on April 20 and it changed forever

But the recovery wouldn’t happen overnight, he stressed: “Our world changed on April 20 and it changed forever; it’s been an awful situation for farmers. In the best case scenario, we anticipate that it could be at least a year or up to two years before the US egg industry is back up and running at full speed again.”

He also stressed that US egg producers were not blocking attempts to enable imports from other countries to temporarily tackle shortages, adding: “We’re not standing in the way…. The bottom line is that we are seeing shortages in many different areas and it is being felt across the country right now.

“The last time this happened on a big scale was in 1983 in Pennsylvania when we lost 17 million​ [egg laying] birds, but we’ve lost double that this time. And back then it took around 24 months for the markets to return to where there were before the crisis began.”

H5N2

The H5N2 strain of avian flu, which has been sweeping across the nation, has affected chicken and turkey farmers in multiple states. Measures to halt the spread of the virus include restricting farm access, preventing hens from exposure to wild and migratory birds, increasing veterinary monitoring of flocks and protective gear for staff. To date 47 million birds have been affected, 35 million of which are egg-laying hens.

Prices starting to moderate

Meanwhile, Randy S. Pesciotta, vice president at Urner Barry, which tracks egg industry data, told FoodNavigator-USA that the wholesale price of 12 large consumer-grade eggs, which had hit a record high of $2.62 at the end of May, had dropped to $2.32 on June 15: “The market is seeking an equilibrium.”

The price of egg products was still rising, but not as rapidly as it had been a few days ago, he added.

“We’ve also lot most of the export business so some of those eggs will go back into the domestic supply.”

Bakers: Many bakers are facing the possibility of running out of egg product supplies

However, American Bakers Association government relations director Cory Martin told FoodNavigator-USA that it was too early to start cracking open the champagne: "I understand that prices are going down, which our members will welcome, but this is not a price issue – it’s a very real supply issue where many have been told they will not be able to purchase egg products in a few weeks to months."

Asked about a possible exemption to a 36-hour refrigeration rule which would allow more domestically produced eggs to be processed for industrial use, and imports of shelled eggs from other countries, he said: "We’re still looking into this as a possibility.

"We want to make sure we fully understand the science behind the rule before seeking an exemption. But as for now, we are working with foreign suppliers to see if they can meet the 36-hour refrigeration requirement, which would help them overcome some hurdles to exporting shelled eggs to the US."

As for egg replacers, he said: "Our​ customers have expectations of the baked goods they purchase, and if the product changes in any way, it will have an impact on consumer purchasing decisions. This being said, I know that many are looking into possible alternatives to eggs as a way to avoid the new risks associated with the egg products market."

In an update to members this month, the ABA said that “nearly 35% of the breaking egg industry’s production has now been taken offline​” and that “many bakers are facing the possibility of running out of egg product supplies with no ability to gain access to new egg product sources.”

Keep up to date with the situation on the USDA website.

Read about the impact of the latest avian flu outbreak on consumer attitudes towards eggs HERE​.

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