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Egg prices spike; NCC asks FDA for policy relief

by Compiled by Georgia Farm Bureau

Posted on Feb 22, 2023 at 0:00 AM

Chances are good you have felt the pinch at the grocery store and bemoaned the price of some of your weekly staples. University of Georgia economists say to brace yourselves for more of the same in the upcoming months.                                                     

“In the case of eggs, the price increase has been dramatic and in a very quick timeframe,” said Benjamin Campbell, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.                              

The average price for a dozen eggs has more than doubled in recent months. Retail egg prices increased 11.1% in December 2022, reaching 59.9% above December 2021 prices.

The reason for the price hike, Campbell said, is a confluence of factors such as increased demand during the holidays and rising input costs for feed, fuel and labor. More importantly, the increase is due to the impact of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), a contagious disease that causes high mortality in poultry such as chickens, turkeys and quail.                      

According to the USDA, the current HPAI outbreak is the deadliest in U.S. history, present in 47 states and impacting more than 58 million birds, 300 commercial flocks and 433 backyard flocks.                                                                                                                 

Farm gate values reported by the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development hail Georgia as the No. 1 producer of poultry in the country, but only 5% of the state’s poultry produce table eggs, Campbell explained.

Meanwhile, the National Chicken Council (NCC) is pushing the federal government to take steps to ease the pressures on egg prices. On Feb. 9, the NCC petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reverse or modify a policy that forces the broiler industry to destroy perfectly nutritious and safe eggs.

“In light of the pressure the current HPAI outbreak is putting on the nation’s egg supply, FDA should revisit the use of safe, affordable, and nutritious surplus eggs available for use by egg breakers and their customers,” said Dr. Ashley Peterson, NCC senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs. “Already faced with record egg prices, consumers might be hit even harder in their wallets as we head into the Easter season unless FDA provides us with a pathway to put these eggs to good use,” noted Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.

According to an NCC press release, due to fluctuating market conditions, broiler hatcheries in some instances have more eggs on hand than they want to hatch. These are known as “surplus” hatching eggs. Prior to 2009 when FDA implemented new rules, broiler producers were able to sell these surplus eggs to egg processors, known as “breakers,” to be pasteurized (cooked) and used in egg products.

When eggs are delivered from a breeding farm to a broiler hatchery, they are stored in a room kept at 65°F before they are placed in incubators to be hatched. Research has shown this is the most ideal temperature to store these eggs prior to incubation – warmer temperatures would induce the incubation process too soon and colder temperatures comprise the viability of an eventual hatch. But the 2009 FDA rule, which was focused on the safety of “table eggs,” or the eggs you buy in your grocery store, stated that all eggs intended to be sent to breaking facilities for eventual pasteurization must be kept at 45°F within 36 hours after being laid.

As a direct result of the 2009 FDA rule, broiler producers stopped selling surplus hatching eggs to egg breakers and instead are forced to render or throw these eggs away, often at an additional cost.

More than 58 million birds have been culled since HPAI was first detected in 2022, with the majority of them being egg-laying chickens, contributing to price spikes and supply disruptions that put tremendous strain on the shell and egg products industries. The impact has already begun to trickle down and impose hardships on restaurants, food manufacturers and consumers.

“With the recent risk assessment affirming their safety, we request FDA exercise its enforcement discretion to allow surplus broiler eggs to be sent for breaking without needing to meet the current refrigeration requirements,” the NCC petition urged.

Granting NCC’s request would release almost 400 million safe and nutritious surplus eggs into the egg breaking supply each year, helping to ease costs and inflationary pressures.

The petition can be read in its entirety here.

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