We've Had to Kill 9% of Our Chickens

Avian flu outbreak has decimated flocks of laying hens
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2022 3:25 PM CDT
We've Had to Kill 9% of Our Chickens
A chicken at Honey Brook Farm in Schuylkill Haven, Pa.   (Lindsey Shuey/Republican-Herald via AP)

The avian flu outbreak has taken a huge toll on America's poultry flocks—mainly from culling, not disease—and consumers are feeling the pain with higher prices for eggs, chickens, and a lot of other products. "More than 28 million laying hens have been culled as a result of the bird flu—that's nearly 9% of the total flock," Karyn Rispoli at commodity research firm Urner Barry tells CBS. Rispoli says initial price rises in poultry products were caused by spikes in demand amid "a bit of panic" at the wholesale level, but now, "so much production has been removed from the landscape that it's more of a supply-side issue."

According to federal authorities, the average price of a dozen large Grade A eggs was $1.66 last week, up 12% from the week before and up almost 75% from a year earlier. The price of whole chickens, however, is up only 5% year-on-year—less than the price of beef and many other grocery items. Urner Barry says the cost of processed eggs used in countless products including cake mix and chips has soared, added to overall inflation in food prices. Rispoli tells CBS "breaker" eggs sold in liquid form to to manufacturers now cost $2.58 a pound, up from 86 cents in early March and 49 cents a year ago.

When one case of flu is detected, the entire flock is killed. More than 36 million chickens and turkeys have been culled since February, often by methods widely considered inhumane, including closing barn vents so birds die from overheating over a few hours, Vox reports. Unlike in previous avian flu outbreaks, however, the current H5N1 seems to pose little threat to humans. Only one human infection has been reported in the US and the man, a Colorado prison inmate who worked at a poultry culling operation as part of a work program, recovered after he was given an antiviral drug. (Last month, a protest against culling methods halted an NBA game.)

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