Avian flu hits egg prices, supply


There is no chicken-or-egg debate about the egg shortage that is hitting some parts of the country. Everyone knows exactly what came first.

The avian flu.

According to the state Department of Agriculture, 20 states have already been hit by two different strains of the disease: H5N2, which has caused about 95 percent of the known cases; and H5N8. Both are classified as “highly pathogenic,” meaning they are very prone to spreading the disease.

But that is mostly in the Midwest. Does Pennsylvania, or Centre County, really have to care about some sick birds half a country away?

Maybe. The most recent case, announced this week, was in Macomb, Mich. As the bird flies, that’s just 150 miles from Pennsylvania.

And then there’s the importance of chickens in the Keystone State. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania is the third-largest producer of eggs in the country, and the fourth-largest of chickens, behind Midwestern producers in Iowa, Ohio and Indiana. Both Iowa and Indiana have found infected flocks.

The poultry industry brings in $1.2 billion to Pennsylvania and supports more than 53,000 jobs, the state says.

“Let me start off by saying that there has not been a confirmed case of HPAI in Pennsylvania to date, but that does not mean we can rest easy,” state Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding said Wednesday in addressing the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

“Since February, we have been working diligently to monitor the situations in other states, planning our response, and taking inventory of available resources should we need to mobilize.”

Even if avian flu never hits Pennsylvanian chickens, it can still be a problem for Pennsylvanians who like to eat poultry products, and can already be seen in the price of eggs.

In Centre County, two grocery stores have already confirmed that there is an impact even though they don’t have suppliers with affected flocks.

“None of our egg suppliers have been impacted by bird flu, but this situation has impacted egg supplies and thus we are experiencing price increases for cartons of eggs and products that contain liquid eggs,” said Giant’s director of marketing, John McDonald. “We are continuing to work with our local farmers to bring customers the best prices. We are monitoring the situation and communicating regularly with our local farmer.”

Wegmans spokeswoman Jeanne Colleluori said all of their stores’ eggs come from a New York supplier. New York officials say no infection has been found in the state.

But because of increased demand from other states, the prices for eggs and egg-containing products are on the rise. It has not yet, though, created demand problems locally.

“We have been able to get the eggs we need,” Colleluori said.

The retail price of eggs now hovers around $2.50 a dozen and is continuing to climb in some places, while in others it is even worse. Texas chain H-E-B has begun limiting the number of cartons consumers can buy at one time.

Even at that price, though, Colleluori is still pro-egg.

“They are still a great, affordable source of protein,” she said.