With the bird flu outbreak spawning an increasing egg shortage, the United States will soon allow imported egg products from the Netherlands to be used for commercial baking and in processed foods. It's the first time in more than a decade the US has bought eggs from Europe, and it comes as consumers saw a 120% surge in egg prices in a month and a Texas-based supermarket began limiting purchases. Generally, the US produces enough eggs to meet domestic supply and exports more than 30 million dozen eggs a month to buyers that include Mexico and Canada. But the H5N2 virus—which spread widely through Midwest farms in early spring—has left nearly 47 million birds dead or dying.
About 35 million were egg-laying hens that provided 80% of the breaker market—eggs broken, then liquefied, dried, or frozen to be used in processed foods like mayonnaise and pancake mixes or sold to bakeries. "It's very much a crisis for us right now," says a rep for the American Bakers Association. Only Canada has been certified to sell liquid, dried, and frozen egg products to US companies in recent years. But with manufacturers scrambling, the USDA announced last week the Netherlands again had been approved to export to the US—something it hasn't done since 2002. Officials believe the bird flu virus will die off in the Midwest once temps consistently hit the 80s, but the damage is done: "I've been told by the producers it may take up to two years to get back up and running to where they were before they got hit with the flu," says the bakery rep. (Read more avian flu stories.)