The Nugget Newspaper - News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Eggs exacting toll on shoppers

 

Last updated 1/17/2023 at Noon

BILL BARTLETT

Eggs are a staple of many a meal — but a catastrophic avian flu outbreak has raised prices.

What’s with the price of eggs? That’s being asked across the country and especially in Sisters, where a dozen white Grade AA large eggs at Ray’s is $4.99, and at Oliver Lemon’s those same white eggs are sold only by the half dozen for $3.79. Bi-Mart sells a dozen for $2.99.

Nationwide the average price of eggs has risen 59 percent from December of 2021 to December 2022. The median price of a dozen rose to $4.25 vs. $1.78 one year earlier according to the latest Consumer Price Index report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In neighboring California, the average is right about $7! The industry blames this almost entirely on the outbreak of avian flu that has resulted in farmers culling 57 million birds. Translation: 57 million eggs per day.

The outbreak has appeared in 47 states including Oregon. However, Oregon in general and Deschutes County specifically have few cases. Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a serious and deadly disease in domestic poultry. The 2015 outbreak of HPAI was the largest and most expensive animal disease response in U.S. history.

Oregon had two HPAI detections in backyard flocks, none among major producers. The other roughly two dozen cases were in wild birds, geese primarily. Of the eight reported cases in Deschutes County they are all on farms that are non-poultry producers.

What makes this outbreak different?

According to Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, low pathogenic strains of avian flu naturally circulate in wild waterfowl and do not kill wild birds. Detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza strains are less common. The last one occurred in the winter of 2014-2015 and mostly affected domestic poultry and some raptors, before being replaced by a low pathogenic strain.

“Unfortunately, the current highly pathogenic strain first detected in North America a year ago is causing more sickness and death in wild birds, especially geese, shorebirds, raptors, and scavengers such as vultures. In other parts of North America, this strain has also been detected in some mammals, such as coyotes, foxes, and skunks that have likely fed on infected birds,” ODFW says.

The virus is infecting more birds in Oregon as they migrate and winter here, and the outbreak is expected to continue into 2023.

Is there relief in sight? Possibly. However, many consumers have turned to eggs as a source of protein in the face of unaffordable rises in meat prices, and that will keep pressure on supply. The peak for egg consumption is December when millions of eggs are used in baking recipes. But producers are not certain they can get prices to a comfortable level by the next big egg season — Easter, in April.

In California the painfully high egg prices for consumers are primarily attributed to a state law requiring egg producers to raise cage-free hens. The bird flu has killed 4 million cage-free hens alone, keeping supplies low as demand remains high.

Surprisingly, the price for organic eggs in some cases is close or even lower. The wholesale price of non-specialty eggs went from $1.15 to $2.88 last year while organic and cage-free eggs rose from $1.81 to $2.37.

Ray’s and Bi-Mart do not presently stock organic eggs. Oliver Lemon’s does. A dozen, AA large, cage-free eggs are $5.79/dozen and brown organic sell for $6.39.

So many chicken farmers have been decimated by the outbreak, losing entire flocks, that they have exited the business, putting more pressure on the supply.

Local options

Gone are the days when you could drive around Sisters Country and find hand-painted signs tacked to a gate or fence of local farms or backyard producers offering fresh eggs for sale.

There are 20 egg vendors in the 2022/23 Annual Guide of the HDFFA (High Desert Food & Farm Alliance), a community-based group of 150 food producers and purveyors based in Deschutes County.

Not a single one has eggs at this time. Many are seasonal and closed for the winter. Others have egg-based products, but not raw eggs. A couple have poultry, no eggs, but are lumped into the Poultry/Eggs category.

Walmart has large AA eggs for $1.86/dozen and at Fred Meyer’s they are under $2; however it takes $4 or $5 of gas to drive to Redmond, making it hard to rationalize going so far afield to hunt for eggs.

 

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