Spike in Egg, Milk Prices Unlikely

Stacks of fresh eggs | Image by Getty Images

Agriculture experts do not forecast a spike in egg or dairy prices in the wake of another outbreak of bird flu that forced the nation’s largest egg producer to euthanize 1.6 million chickens.

Cal-Maine Foods operates an egg production farm in the Texas Panhandle and was forced to put down the entire flock and halt production after the virus was detected. Experts state that while the number of birds in the flock was large, it represents a small percentage of total egg-laying hens in the U.S.

“This is not going to be a problem,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in an interview with KERA News. “The eggs are safe, milk’s safe. There’s not going to be a spike in the prices of eggs or milk. To my farmers and ranchers, you know, we’ll get through this.”

Miller added that the outbreak should be fairly well contained and will likely be over in the next few months. The virus is thought to be carried by wild migratory birds and can easily spread to domestic fowl such as chickens, turkeys, and ducks.

Bird flu has also been found in several dairy cattle, including North Texas. Experts believe this is the first time bird flu has been transmitted to cattle. The virus primarily strikes older, lactating cattle and appears confined to mammary tissue. One case of transmission to a human has been reported, as previously covered by The Dallas Express.

The United States Department of Agriculture said there is very little risk to humans from contaminated milk or eggs. Nearly all milk sold in the U.S. is pasteurized, a process that is thought to kill viruses, including bird flu, otherwise known as highly pathogenic avian influenza.

“The only thing I would caution is, you know, I would lay off the raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products, maybe, until we figure out what we’re dealing with,” Miller said, per KERA.

David Anderson, professor and extension economist with Texas A&M AgriLife, added that multiple steps are taken in the production of eggs and milk to avoid possible health risks to consumers.

“I don’t anticipate much in the way of, say, milk price changes because of this,” Anderson said, reported KERA. “There’s not a lot of cases to date. We have plenty of milk. In fact, dairy farmers have been struggling with very low prices because of how much milk there is.”

Researchers still have many questions about bird flu and are unsure how cattle have become infected. Some theories include infected birds getting into cattle feed, infected birds drinking from watering troughs, or even cross-contamination by workers.

The CDC reports that avian flu viruses have been found worldwide. The virus is thought to be naturally occurring and is spread by nasal discharge, saliva, and feces. Cases have been found in the U.S. in recent months in Oregon, Texas, and Michigan.

The CDC recommends that people handling domestic fowl that are sick or could be sick should wear protective equipment.

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