The ‘Perfect Storm’ That Drove up California’s Egg Prices

A shopper reads an egg purchase limit sign at a grocery store in Irvine, Calif., on Jan. 11, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A shopper reads an egg purchase limit sign at a grocery store in Irvine, Calif., on Jan. 11, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

By Jill McLaughlin January 17, 2023 Updated: January 18, 2023

By Jill McLaughlin

January 17, 2023
Updated: January 18, 2023

Customers have visited Poul’s Bakery in Costa Mesa, California, for 68 years to buy specialty Danish cakes, cannolis, and angel cookies made from scratch.

However, eggs, which are indispensable for the patisserie’s traditional recipes, reached nearly $7 a dozen last week in California.

“We still have to use eggs,” owner Ayliz Guclu told The Epoch Times.

She said the real-egg recipes are one of the reasons the bakery was named one of the best in Orange County last year by a local newspaper.

“That’s how customers know us,” Guclu added.

Prices started to ease in the Golden State—after a shortage caused the spike last week reaching $6.72 for a dozen large eggs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Benchmark prices were 57 cents lower on Jan. 17. Jumbo and extra-large eggs averaged $6.17 a dozen and large eggs $5.97.

The cost increased about 60 percent nationally last December, according to the latest consumer-price index released Jan. 12.

Bird Flu

National egg supply was hit by a “perfect storm” of supply chain problems, inflation, rising fuel costs, and an aviation influenza epidemic—or bird flu—that has driven prices up, California Poultry Federation President Bill Mattos told The Epoch Times.

The bird flu has resulted in the death of about 58 million birds in 47 states, according to the USDA. Of those, 307 commercial flocks have reported infections.

California’s egg-laying chickens—which supply about 60 percent of the state’s demand—have escaped the outbreak, Mattos said, but other birds have been infected. So far, 15 commercial flocks, 15 backyard flocks, and about 781,000 birds in San Joaquin, Sonoma, Glenn, Fresno, and San Diego counties were affected, the USDA reported.

The USDA recommends bird owners use good biosecurity measures by separating wild and domestic ones, a measure poultry farms in the state are adopting, according to Mattos.

“There has been no bird flu found in California layer chicken commercial producers,” he said. “Our biosecurity [is] working and our companies are on high alert for ducks flying south and contaminating our flocks.”

Mattos expects the high prices to continue for another six months to a year as growers in the Midwest repopulate their flocks.

“Californians eat more eggs, chicken, and turkey than any other state,” he said. “When you have a lack of supply from out-of-state, it really hurts California.”

Cage-Free Eggs

The state also passed a law in 2018—Prop. 12—which only allows cage-free eggs to be sold. Inspectors also travel out of state to ensure suppliers meet the requirements. Seven other states—Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—have since passed similar laws.

Although the national demand for such eggs has surged as a result, that isn’t the main reason Californians are paying more, Mattos said.

“The price already went up for cage-free eggs four to five years ago,” he said. “But now, on top of that, we have bird flu and the supply chain problems.”

The USDA is working with states and other U.S. agencies to monitor the disease in commercial poultry operations, live markets, and migratory wild bird populations, spokesman Mike Stepien told The Epoch Times.

“Highly pathogenic avian influenza poses a threat to all domestic poultry,” he said. “The current outbreak has impacted all types of farms, regardless of size or production style.”

Yuko Sato, an assistant professor and poultry veterinarian and diagnostician at Iowa State University, agreed that all chickens are equally susceptible to the outbreak.

Predicting when the shortage will ease is also impossible, Sato told The Epoch Times.

“It depends on if the outbreak continues, and how the disease fares out,” she said in an email. “We closely follow what is happening globally out in Europe and Asia to see if the virus is still circulating.”

Meanwhile, farms nationwide are recovering quickly, Emily Metz, president and CEO of the American Egg Board, told the morning television show NBC News Today.

“In fact, most of the egg farms that were affected with bird flu have recovered and are back to producing eggs,” she said.

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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