Are Egg and Chicken Prices Being Affected by the Bird Flu?
Ahh, the bird flu. The media loves to use this as the sole reason for the increase in egg and chicken meat prices. In fact, Justin was just interviewed by Wood TV 8 for an expert opinion on this exact topic. The answer is yes... and no. Let's dig in:
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza
First, let's go over some facts about the virus. The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has certainly been affecting flocks for the past two years. It's not the first time it's affected flocks and it won't be the last. When a farm is tested and found to have the virus, ALL poultry on the farm must be destroyed. Coops must be sanitized and there is a waiting period before new poultry can return. The government does not give any other option. Here are a few things to know about the impact of HPAI and the response to it:
- A hen takes 18-20 weeks to lay eggs and meat chickens take 6-8 weeks to grow. So a quick replacement is not possible. This is 8-10 MONTHS of lost revenue after adding in the cleanup and quarantine period.
- The "replacement costs" the goverment pays per bird is miniscule compared to the actual investment into a chicken and the revenue it would have produced.
- Funding to cover the cleanup and replacement of chickens is running short. The goverment will soon need to find different ways to deal with HPAI.
-Because the only response has been to euthanize all birds, there is very little data on how and if there is any treatment nor what happens if the virus runs its course.
What Other Factors Affect Price and Supply?
It's time for a little economic lesson. There are a great number of factors that are affecting price and supply of meat and eggs. They aren't as flashy or sound as frightening as another virus, but here they are:
- Grain Prices
- Gas Prices
- Animal Costs
- Cost of Logistics (trucking and shipping)
-Cost of Goods (think egg cartons, packaging supplies, cleaning supplies, etc)
- Animal care (bedding, coop expenses, feeders, waterers, etc)
-Equipment (tractors, attachments, vehicles)
And this list is far from complete. There are many factors involved in getting your food from farm to home.
So Farmers are Making Lots of Money Now, Right? 🤦♀️
Try not to laugh, but I've heard this comment more than once in the past month. The increase of food prices you see at the store is NOT lining the pockets of the farmers producing the food. The person actually growing the food will always receive the short end of the stick when you buy from a grocery store and not a farm. Often farmers that are growing for Big Food are so indebted that they are upside down on their land and homes. It may surprise some people...but farmers are experiencing the same increase of prices that YOU are! (Read sarcasm here).
Why is the Conventional Food Supply so Fragile?
When you rely on the conventional food supply, you are betting your health and full pantry on a centralized, complicated, and rigid system. One thing (or several in current times) goes wrong, and it impacts all up and down that supply chain. Avian flu intensifies the impact upon the weak food supply system. Just imagine this scenario: a meat chicken farm has an outbreak of HPAI. They must destroy all 500,000 of their meat birds and wait before they can add more birds to their farm. Up the supply chain you have grain that won't be bought and may go to waste, hatcheries are stuck with newly hatched chicks that were supposed to refill those barns, without chickens to care for workers are laid off. Down the supply chain, logistic companies are left with empty trucks, processing plants have lost revenue and open slots, more workers laid off, store orders are unfulfilled, and products can not be made without animal products.
Now add in all the increase costs to raise those chickens... It's a perfect recipe for food shortages and increased prices. When we put all our eggs into a couple baskets that raise all the food for all the people, the impact is huge when something goes wrong.
Will Egg and Chicken Prices Go Back Down when the Bird Flu is Over?
You aren't going to like it, but already know the answer...No. When have you ever seen Big Food lower the price of food? Never. Even if they could, they would not give up profit created for their shareholders. Because of all the factors mentioned above, food is becoming more expensive to produce.
Why Are Direct-to-Consumer Farms the Answer to a Broken Food Supply System?
Small farms are flexible and resilient. We have many paths to get to the end result. We are problem solvers, team workers and scrapers. We can make decisions quickly in a changing environment. We cut out the (many) middle men by selling directly to our customers. Our animals are healthier because the life of our families and communities depend on it. We care about the impact of our growing practices on animal, community and Earth health because we HAVE to. Without soil health, there is no food for our animals. Community health equals health for our families because we live there too.
Now imagine that same scenario above, but instead of one farm with 500,000 meat chickens, it's 50 farms with 10,000 chickens selling direct to their customers . One farm gets HPAI. 10,000 chickens are killed. The other farms around them see the opportunity to increase production. They increase chickens, take up the processing slots and increase their customer base. While the farm that looses their chickens is hurt, the impact on the food supply and surrounding systems is minimal. And since that farm also raises other animals, their entire operation isn't shut down and they are able to survive.