We've been watching the avian influenza outbreak pretty closely here at the Food Institute. Although most people understood that poultry prices would rise in the wake of the flu, government efforts were focused specifically on stopping the spread of the disease when it was first encountered in April. Luckily, it appears those efforts worked: by most accounts, the outbreak is over, and life is reverting to normal for producers in the affected regions.
That doesn't mean USDA is taking any chances. The agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service noted on Oct. 13 that it would award contracts to Harrisvaccines and Ceva to produce sufficient numbers of the vaccine to establish an emergency stockpile in case the virus spreads to the south as birds migrate during the fall.
So, the avian flu epidemic may be stalled for now, but that isn't helping consumers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price for a dozen eggs in September rose to almost $2.97, representing a 3-cent increase from August. More notably, it also represented a 50.6% jump over the prices most consumers encountered in September 2014.
Rising egg prices may hurt the industry that received a huge, ringing endorsement from changes in the dietary advice recommended earlier this year. Instead of being the posterchild of the anti-cholesterol movement, eggs were poised to become a superfood in 2015 with a fresh marketing campaign by the American Egg Board featuring Kevin Bacon.
To be fair, a dozen eggs for $3 still remains a pretty good deal when you look at the price of other protein options in your local supermarket. However, customers noticing rising prices may be more inclined to try egg substitutes or pay a smaller premium for beef or fish, and that's not great news for an industry that was ready to reclaim its status as an American dietary staple less than a year ago.