As Avian Flu Rate Climbs, So Does Local Cost of Eggs

HARRISBURG PA – Even if you visit a grocery store only occasionally, you’ve probably noticed a dramatic rise in the price of eggs. About eight months ago, depending on where you shopped, a dozen of the Grade A large white variety sold in retail markets for between $1.40 and $2.00. Now the cost has more than doubled in many places.

Don’t blame chickens. Blame their flu: specifically, avian influenza.

The highly contagious disease originated with wild birds and then spread about a year ago to domestic poultry flocks across the Midwest. It has now grown to become what the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers the worst such outbreak in the nation’s history, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. Millions of birds have died.

Its effects are evident to anyone checking the dairy aisles of supermarkets across western Montgomery, eastern Berks, and northern Chester counties. An online review of area stores’ Grade A large white prices Monday (Jan. 23) showed them selling for $4.66 at Giant, $3.79 (on sale) at Redner’s, $4.69 at Acme, $4.49 at Landis, and $4.39 at Weis.

Poultry farmers in Pennsylvania are known for the highest egg production in the three-state Northeast region, which also includes Maryland and New York. Most recent figures from the department’s National Agricultural Statistics Service show Pennsylvania production of “table eggs,” which amounted to 781.8 million in December 2021, fell last month by 153.7 million, or almost 20 percent.

The statistics service Harrisburg-based regional director is King Whetstone, whose background includes agricultural economics. The math is simple, he said Monday. Consumer demand for eggs, despite a recent decline, continues to outpace supply and results in higher prices at checkout.

That ages-old axiom was confirmed last week by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reported the consumer price index for eggs rose last month by 11.1 percent.

Whetstone observes that the statistics service is in the business of gathering data, and not predicting what may happen with it in the future. He prefers to avoid suggesting how much longer egg prices might remain at current levels.

Recent history hasn’t been much help in that regard, either. The last big avian flu outbreak affecting commercial poultry flocks in the U.S. and Canada lasted only six months, from January to June 2015, according to the national Centers for Disease Control. The current level of illness is more severe and longer-lasting, experts report, so the situation may persist for some time.

Photo by Hrushikesh Chavan from Unsplash, used under license