Bird Flu Cases Keep Spreading

AFBF: Egg Prices Higher This Easter, But Not Due to Bird Flu

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The American Farm Bureau Federation cites that egg prices are about 15% higher than they were during the avian influenza outbreak in 2015. The number of egg-laying chickens lost so far amount to about 18.5 million birds, or roughly 68.5% of all commercial and backyard losses. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Consumers are paying more for eggs right now, but inventory is still higher than during the last major outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, according to an American Farm Bureau Federation analysis.

As of Wednesday afternoon, USDA's website reports 24.95 million commercial and backyard birds have been confirmed with bird flu and depopulated since February in now 26 states. Missing from USDA's numbers is a flock of 1.7 million egg-laying hens from a farm in Dixon County, Nebraska, that state officials reported on Wednesday. It's the largest affected farm so far in Nebraska.

Post Holdings, owner of Michael Foods, reported the flock had tested positive. Michael Foods processes liquid eggs for other food processors and food-service providers. Post Holdings said the operation accounted for about 4% of the company's supply.

Along with another 390,000 Minnesota turkeys confirmed with HPAI that haven't been posted on USDA's list, the number of commercial and backyard losses is easily approaching 27 million domestic birds.

Just under 18.5 million birds that have been tested positive for HPAI and euthanized are egg-laying chickens.


Egg prices, adjusted for inflation, are nearly 15% higher than they were during the same period in 2015 during the last major HPAI outbreak. According to USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, there were 38% more eggs available in the two-week run-up to Easter than in 2015. Eggs are more expensive, though not as high as they got in 2020 when COVID-19 disrupted the industry.

"Today's pricing suggests that the market doesn't necessarily believe the industry has HPAI contained quite yet," AFBF noted.

CoBank had analyzed the impact of the current outbreak in late March but cited that the number of layers was already down about 7 million birds compared to pre-COVID numbers. That would lead to higher prices going into Easter. (…)


Regardless, the latest number of flocks and birds infected by highly pathogenic avian influenza show this year's outbreak of HPAI cases is actually outpacing the 2014-15 outbreak, AFBF stated.

An analysis by AFBF's Market Intel showed more than 600 detections of HPAI among wild birds in 31 states. AFBF's analysis through April 7 also showed 158 outbreaks among commercial or backyard farms in 25 states. That number has since bumped up to 170 commercial or backyard farms hit with HPAI in 26 states.

As AFBF pointed out, the spread of avian influenza has raised concerns that this year's outbreak could be as bad as 2014-15 when 43 million chickens and another 7.4 million turkeys were depopulated. The 2014-15 avian influenza outbreak is considered the largest and most expensive foreign animal disease in U.S. history, causing roughly $1.6 billion in losses by producers and another $1 billion spent by USDA to manage the depopulation and disposal of birds, as well as provide indemnities to producers.

The 2014-15 outbreak prompted USDA to revise its National HPAI Surveillance Plan to expand testing of wild birds and increase emphasis on biosecurity at farms. "The HPAI outbreak is an urgent reminder to all poultry farmers to ensure their biosecurity measures are in place," said Zippy Duvall, AFBF's president. "Every effort must be made to protect the health of the animals in our care in order to keep America's food supply strong."

The losses are increasing rapidly, though it takes just one or two large egg-laying operations infected to quickly bump up the numbers. At the end of March, USDA had reported more than 14.5 million commercial or backyard birds had been infected and depopulated. So, in the last two weeks alone, cases have spiked, hitting 68 operations so far in April.


So far, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has found the outbreak is spreading mainly due to migratory birds and is not being spread from farm to farm.

Farm Bureau's look at HPAI showed commercial flocks in the Mississippi migratory flyway are the most affected, accounting for just under 50% of cases. The Mississippi flyway includes Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri, stretching east to Ohio. The Central flyway, which includes the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma Texas and states to the Rocky Mountains makes up about 36% of cases. The Atlantic flyway accounts for about 15% of cases.

The bulk of the losses continues in Iowa, which now has reported more than 13,355,000 commercial birds depopulated at 16 operations, mainly due to two egg-laying operations that each had more than 5 million chickens. Another seven turkey operations have been hit in Iowa, totaling 336,240 turkeys depopulated.

Minnesota, the nation's largest state for producing turkeys, has reported 30 commercial turkey operations hit -- the majority coming in the past two weeks. The Minnesota Board of Animal Health reports more than 1.76 million birds have been tested positive in the state with nearly all of them listed as commercial turkey farms.


The current outbreak does not present an immediate public health concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and no human cases have been found in the U.S. Still, as a reminder, USDA cautions to ensure proper handling and cooking of all poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit as a general food safety precaution.

When cases are found in domestic flocks, USDA and state officials quarantine the premises and birds on the property are killed to prevent the spread of the disease. Other flocks within a 10-kilometer radius also are quarantined. USDA is authorized to provide indemnity payments to producers and the destroyed flocks do not enter the food system, and typically are composted or incinerated on-site if possible.


The signs for HPAI in flocks include a sudden increase in bird deaths without any clinical signs, a lack of energy or appetite, declines in egg production, or misshaped eggs that may have thin skin. Birds may show swelling in their heads, eyelids, wattles and hocks, or purple discoloration of wattles, combs or legs. Other signs may be gasping for air or coughing and sneezing.

APHIS officials have said a major red flag showing a sign of illness would be a decline in water consumption by a flock. Sometimes a decline in water consumption is among the first indications that a flock was affected.


EDITOR'S NOTE: If you are a producer who has been affected by HPAI this spring, DTN would like to know how it has affected your individual operation. Please reach out to Chris Clayton's email below.

More on HPPAI:

AFBF's Market Intel report on HPAI:…

USDA's listing of HPAI detections in domestic birds:…

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Chris Clayton