The U.S. isn’t known for having egg supply problems. In fact, the country regularly offers eggs in trade to Mexico and Canada because we have surplus. But unfortunately, a massive outbreak of H5N2 avian influenza has left nearly 47 million chickens dead or dying—and caused a serious egg shortage as a result.

The AP reports that nearly 35 million of the dead chickens were egg-laying hens that accounted for 80 percent of the “breaker” market. In commercial terms, eggs are usually classified as either “breakers” or “shell eggs.” As the name suggests, “breakers” are cracked open and then turned into other egg products—such as the dried, liquefied, or frozen eggs commonly used in commercial food-service applications. “Shell eggs” are eggs that get to retain their shells, and are what we all buy when we get a dozen eggs from the grocery store.

krispy kreme doughnuts
Photo: Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

With the breaker-egg market in jeopardy, commercial bakeries are starting to feel the pinch. Cory Martin is director of government relations for the American Bakers Association, which is a trade group that represents bakeries including Pepperidge Farm and Krispy Kreme. He told the AP:

Our members are not able to get their hands on enough eggs to continue their production. It’s very much a crisis for us right now.”

Milano_cookiesPepperidge Farms Milano Cookies Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This avian-flu outbreak happened so fast, a third of the supply of egg products has dried up within the span of just a few weeks. Even worse: Martin says the price of egg products used by bakeries and processed food manufacturers like Pepperidge Farm and Krispy Kreme rose by more than 200 percent in the past month alone.

Egg Imports To The Rescue

Photo: Flickr/16:9clue

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service has been scrambling to approve egg imports that the country hasn’t needed in years. Prior to this avian-flu outbreak, Canada was approved for egg-product imports. But now seven other countries have been approved to meet our unending demand for eggs: Chile, Argentina, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal. The U.S. hasn’t had egg imports from the Netherlands in more than a decade.

Martin says the ABA thinks the U.S. should approve even more imports because, “I’ve been told by the producers it may take up to two years to get back up and running to where they were before they got hit with the flu.”

Reports across the country note that the price of a dozen eggs at the supermarket has gone up, too—such as this one from the Des Moines Register, where eggs went from $0.99 a dozen to $3. Organic egg prices have stayed relatively stable, because so-called specialty egg houses haven’t been hit as hard by this outbreak.

Texas supermarket chain H-E-B even started rationing its egg sales last week. Customers are limited to buying three dozen eggs at a time, in an effort to deter commercial buyers from wiping out a store’s entire supply.

An official statement from the chain said,

“H-E-B is committed to ensuring Texas families and households have access to eggs. The signs placed on our shelves last week are to deter commercial users from buying eggs in bulk.”

Texas-based chain Whataburger cut back the hours it offers breakfast menu items that include eggs from 5am to 11am. The entire breakfast menu is usually offered from 11pm to 11am at all locations.

[via AP]