Egg prices have doubled in the last year. Here’s why

Click to enlargeEgg farmer looking for a subsidy – See any chickens?

If you look at a graph of the price of eggs, it usually resembles the flight path of a chicken: It bounces up a little bit, then flutters back to earth. But in the last few months egg prices have been soaring like — well, if not like eagles, at least like a flock of enthusiastic pigeons. The price is twice what it was this time last year.

What’s going on here? This year, avian flu hit a lot of egg farmers, wiping out their hens. Now this loss of birds is translating to a scarcity of eggs. Interestingly, the price of specialty eggs — like organic, and vegetarian-fed — hasn’t increased in the same way, which means they are pretty competitive.

That doesn’t mean that organic chicken operations are immune to avian flu. Donald Carr looked into this and found that small egg operations are probably just as prone to disease as big ones.

Congress is currently considering a bailout to help chicken farmers, which might help bring down the cost of eggs. From the perspective of someone living in poverty, cheaper eggs are important: Eggs have long been a healthy and inexpensive mainstay. They are easy to cook, too.

Our family eats eggs from cage-free chickens. If you’ve ever seen photos or visited a so-called battery chicken farm you’d probably make the same decision. The eggs we also eat are brown not white. While color variations to some extent are genetic, the popularity of white eggs comes from the same Anglo-Saxon fixation on white means clean, white means pure. Now, centuries out-of-date.

Growing up in New England, folks generally have more sense than to believe that myth – which is why most folks eat eggs with brown shells from chickens that didn’t have extra minerals added to their diet to produce white shells. Not any different from ignoring bleached, all-purpose flour. Yankees buy King Arthur unbleached flour instead of the stuff that keeps the stock market happy.

The eggs my wife and I eat have increased in price 10% year-over-year.

One thought on “Egg prices have doubled in the last year. Here’s why

  1. 2Big2Fail says:

    The impact of the highly infectious H5N2 strain of avian influenza has been especially pronounced because the industry is highly concentrated, with farms on average containing around 1.5 million birds. When the virus is confirmed in one hen house, birds in all of the other nearby houses typically have to be killed to prevent further spread.
    The U.S. now has fewer than 200 commercial-egg companies, down from about 10,000 in the 1970s.
    “One of the problems we’ve had through this outbreak stems from the massive population of chickens on these farms today,” said Marcus Rust, chief executive of Indiana-based Rose Acre Farms, one of the largest U.S. egg producers. “Our customer base is demanding the lowest cost possible and that causes us to put six million chickens on one farm. When something like this happens, just that one farm going out [of production] can cause the entire market for eggs to go up five cents a dozen.”
    Producers will be reeling for years, egg-industry officials said. One of the major challenges will be the cost to repopulate egg-laying facilities that together house millions of birds on some farms.
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, has allocated just under $400 million to cover claims from poultry farmers that have culled flocks to stem the spread of the disease. (May 21st, 2015)

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