Rising US egg prices put pressure on consumers and businesses | lifestyle

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Chickens may not be able to fly very far, but the price of eggs is soaring.

A lingering outbreak of bird flu, combined with skyrocketing feed, fuel and labor costs, has seen U.S. egg prices more than double over the past year, and many stickers have hatched on grocery aisles.

The national average price for a dozen eggs hit $3.59 in November, up from $1.72 a year earlier, according to the latest government data. This puts a strain on consumer budgets and the bottom lines of restaurants, bakeries and other food producers that rely heavily on eggs.

Food prices, which rose 12% in November, are driving inflation higher, although the overall rate of price growth slowed a bit during the fall as gas prices eased.

But egg prices are rising significantly more than other foods — even more than chicken or turkey — because egg farmers have been hit harder by bird flu. More than 43 million of the 58 million birds culled over the past year to control the virus were egg-laying hens, including some farms with more than a million birds apiece in major egg-producing states like Iowa.

Anyone who approaches the egg case at the Omaha Hy-Vee store “has a sour face,” said shopper Nancy Stom.

But despite the cost increase, eggs remain relatively cheap compared to the price of other proteins such as chicken or beef, with chicken breasts averaging $4.42 a pound in November and ground beef selling for $4.85 a pound, according to the Bureau . labor statistics.

“It’s still cheap food,” Stom said. But the 70-year-old said at those prices, she’ll be keeping a closer eye on her eggs in the fridge and trying not to spoil them before they get used.

If prices stay this high, Kelly Fischer said she’ll start thinking more seriously about building a chicken coop in her Chicago backyard because everyone in her family eats eggs.

“We’re thinking (with neighbors) about building a chicken coop behind our houses, so hopefully I won’t end up buying them and have my own eggs, and I think the price will come into it a little bit,” said the 46-year-old public school teacher. while shopping at HarvestsTime Foods on the city’s north side. “For me, it’s more about the environmental impact and trying to buy locally.”

In some places, it can even be hard to find eggs on the shelves. But overall egg stocks are holding up as the total flock has declined by only 5% from its normal size of around 320 million hens. Farmers worked to replace their flocks as soon as possible after the outbreak.

Jakob Werner, 18, said he tries to find the cheapest eggs he can because he eats five or six a day as he tries to gain weight and build muscle.

“I stopped eating eggs for a while because they became more expensive. But because they’re my favorite food, I ended up going back to them,” said Werner, who lives in Chicago. “So I think I stopped eating eggs for a few months and waited for the price to come down. That never happened. So now I’m buying again.”

Purdue University agricultural economist Jayson Lusk said he believes the bird flu outbreak is the biggest driver of price increases. Unlike previous years, the virus persisted throughout the summer and reappeared last fall, infecting egg and poultry farms.

“Bird flu is not the only factor, but in my opinion it is the main driver of what we’re experiencing at this point,” Lusk said.

But the president and CEO of the trade group American Egg Board, Emily Metz, said she believes all the cost increases farmers faced last year were a bigger factor in the price increase than bird flu.

“When you look at fuel costs going up and you look at feed costs going up 60%, labor costs, packaging costs – all of that… these are much, much bigger factors than bird flu . sure,” Metz said.

Jada Thomson, an agricultural economist at the University of Arkansas, said there may be some relief in egg prices in the next few months as egg farmers continue to replace flocks lost to bird flu last year, and demand will ease a bit now that humans are . done with their holiday baking.

But she said avian flu remains a wildcard that could still push prices higher if there were larger outbreaks at egg farms.

Farmers are doing everything they can to limit the spread, but the disease is easily spread by migrating wild birds and the virus can be picked up on clothing or vehicles.

“But there are some things that are out of our control,” Thompson said. “Sometimes you can’t control nature.

Food manufacturers and restaurants are hurting because it is hard to find a good substitute for eggs in their recipes.

Any reduction in egg prices would be welcomed by Patti Stobaugh’s two restaurants and two bakeries in Conway and Russelville, Arkansas, because all of her ingredients and supplies are more expensive these days. For some bakeries, Stobaugh has switched to a frozen egg product, which isn’t as expensive, but she still buys eggs for all the breakfasts she serves.

A case of 15 dozen eggs has gone from $36 to $86 over the past year, but the flour, butter, chicken and everything else he buys is also more expensive. Stobaugh said it makes her “hyper-vigilant about every little thing.”

It has already raised its prices by 8% in the past year and may have to raise them again soon. It’s a delicate balance of trying not to make it more expensive for people to eat out and hurt sales, but she doesn’t have much choice when trying to provide for her 175 employees.

“We have a lot of staff working for us and we are responsible for paying their wages every week and supporting their families. We take it very seriously. But it was definitely tough,” Stobaugh said.

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