WASHINGTON, June 3, 2015 – With diminishing egg supplies due to the avian influenza outbreak, the U.S. egg market is struggling to fulfill demand from food producers. After urgent requests from food manufacturers and bakers, USDA this week reinstated the Netherlands as an exporter of pasteurized egg products to the United States.
Avian influenza — the latest outbreak was first detected in the U.S. last December — has impacted more than 44 million birds, including turkeys, broilers and laying hens, according to USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories. In Iowa alone, the flu has killed or resulted in the depopulation of 24 million chickens, or more than 40 percent of the state’s commercial hen population. USDA estimates that as many as 50 million chickens will be affected before the situation improves.
“Approximately 80 percent of the chickens infected in the U.S. were those that lay eggs used by food producers,” affecting 30 percent of the processed egg supply chain, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
In a May report, USDA lowered its forecast for table egg production for 2015 to 7.2 billion dozen, down 87 million dozen from the previous month’s forecast and a decline of 0.7 percent from 2014.
To assuage the egg shortage, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service determined this week that five plants in the Netherlands have the safety and regulatory standards that are consistent with the U.S. and whose products are qualified for import. The Netherlands was first given permission to ship egg products to the U.S. in 1987, but the approval lapsed after imports stopped several years ago.
The United States has been a net exporter of eggs for many years, so most countries have not gone through the equivalency process to get approved for imports by USDA. The only other country eligible for egg imports is Canada.
Robb MacKie, CEO of the American Bakers Association, applauded USDA’s swift response to the egg shortage situation. MacKie’s membership made close to 1,000 e-mails and phone calls to USDA and members of Congress asking for additional import opportunities, the organization said in a press release. With 35 percent of the egg product supply being taken offline due to avian influenza, many bakers, which commonly use frozen, liquid and powdered eggs, may run out of egg product supplies with no ability to gain access to new egg product sources, the organization noted.
Cory Martin, ABA’s director of government relations, said that opening imports from the Netherlands is step in the right direction, but more help is needed. In a normal year, the U.S. produces about 100 billion eggs, while the Netherlands exports about 10 billion eggs per year along with other egg products.
In its letter to USDA, GMA noted, “The egg shortage is one of the largest crises the food industry has experienced and it will affect the U.S. food supply as certain foods may become unavailable. It will have a significant impact on our companies and the people we employ.”
The shortage is causing spikes in egg prices. According to USDA’s egg market news report published Monday, regional prices are 33 cents higher on jumbo eggs, between 33 and 57.5 cents higher for extra-large, large and medium eggs, and 35 cents higher on small eggs.
Maro Ibarburu, an associate scientist at Iowa State University’s Egg Industry Center, wrote in a report last month that the avian flu outbreak may cause “perhaps the largest short-term change the U.S. egg market has ever experienced.”
The American Bakers Association is also encouraging the Food and Drug Administration to alter its 36-hour refrigeration rule, which requires that all shelled eggs that have not been refrigerated before the 36-hour mark must be destroyed.
“It may be possible to allow a temporary exemption to this rule and allow these eggs to be pasteurized and used in the egg breaking market,” the baker group stated. “Lifting the refrigeration rule may also create shelled egg import possibilities from other countries, including Mexico.”
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