The Disturbing Details Behind the Bird Flu and Egg Prices

Consumers can take a lot, but when you start raising prices on staples like eggs and milk, a definite din begins to rise from the streets.

I knew something was up during a pre-Christmas trip to Costco, where a frenzied mob of shoppers were exasperated after being told, "We're out of eggs.  We won't have any more until a truck comes in!"

More recently, as I walked down the dairy aisle at my local grocery, a fellow shopper cried out, "I heard about the goose that laid the golden egg, but I thought it was a fairy tale!"  Thus ensued an excited conversation between shoppers and the employee posting the new sign that read "$5.49" for a dozen large eggs.  That's up from an average national price of $1.72 less than a year ago.

The reason eggs are so pricey appears, at face value, to be simple supply and demand:  "Millions of birds died.  Eggs now cost nearly 50% more."

It's true that millions of chickens are being "depopulated" due to a worsening bird flu pandemic, but what's even worse is that the story behind the egg shortage has taken some disturbing turns.

A recent article in Bay Nature magazine is titled "The Latest Bird Flu Pandemic Is Terrible—and Strange."

It begins by telling us there are "check stations" across the country where freshly hunted waterfowl are being swabbed for the bird flu.  With swab sticks similar to COVID-19 rapid tests, and costing at least $50 a pop, biologists are swabbing birds' beaks and butts to monitor the spread of the latest bird flu for the National Wildlife Disease Program, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

So far, nearly 58 million birds in 47 states have died since January 2022.  Consisting mostly of chickens and turkeys on commercial farms, most deaths were due to culling to stop the flu's spread.

The author of the article tells us this particular strain of H5N1 bird flu is called "Gs/GD HPAI" — short for Goose/Guangdong (Gs/GD), a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).  (And if you're wondering, Guangdong province is 609 miles from Wuhan as the crow flies.  However, to be clear, this is an enzootic influenza, not a coronavirus.)

The author continues:

[It] is the deadliest and most infectious bird flu ever to strike Europe or North America. ... The first confirmed case of Gs/GD HPAI in the U.S. was in a wild American wigeon in South Carolina, detected through hunter-harvested sampling in mid-January 2022.

After detailed reporting about this specific bird flu, Bay Nature magazine tells us why it's "strange":

First, they compared it with a similar outbreak in North America in 2014/15, when the disease spread to wild birds and 100 cases were confirmed in the U.S.  In the current pandemic, however, there have already been more than 3,000 wild birds infected.  (Songbirds are mostly unaffected.)

Seeing waterfowl showing symptoms or dying from a flu virus they coevolved with was previously highly unusual.  But that's no longer the case. ... "Now we seem to be seeing a lot of waterfowl mortality, which is just strange," says Maurice Pitesky, a UC Davis poultry epidemiologist. "That's not normal."

Secondly, referencing another article by the same author titled "Avian Flu Isn't Just for the Birds," we find that "10 species of land mammals have tested positive for the disease," including foxes, skunks, and raccoons — most likely after they ingest a bird.

Then we find that it's moved offshore, and bird droppings on land have infected marine life such as gray seals, harbor seals, and bottlenose dolphins.  And while it is sickening and killing these mammals, it is not spreading from mammal to mammal.

But wait...

The article concludes by telling us that the more "spillover" infections occur throughout the animal species, the higher the likelihood that it will spread among mammals.  And finally, it closes with a quote from an infectious disease and influenza expert at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital:

The worst-case scenario is, it finds its way to us. ... Those hosts, that's a step closer to the virus changing from being a bird virus to being a human virus.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, Joe owns a large commercial egg business and agreed to speak to me as long as I don't mention his real name or the farm.  He tells me why:

Because we've got everybody and his brother calling right now wanting to come to the farm to buy eggs because they think they're going to be cheaper here.  But we aren't set up for that.  Plus there's the biosecurity.  It's an FDA rule that you aren't supposed to let people on the farm.

The biosecurity is an important part of bird flu prevention.  Joe sums it up by saying it's all about "controlling who is coming in and out of the buildings, and changing shoes and clothing."  But for all that's worth, he says, the bottom line is you cannot control migrating wildlife.  "It only takes one sick goose landing in the field near the buildings to ruin everything."

He continues to say that many geese and even bald eagles in his area are suddenly dropping dead: 

It's everywhere but people don't realize it.  We get local reports from Cornell and the USDA.  They send this information to people in the business, but there's certain things they don't want people to hear about.  They can't do anything about it anyway.  It only gets animal activists upset that geese and chickens are dying.  And they already think farmers are cruel people.  No we aren't!  We're trying to produce food for people to consume.

And unlike Marek's Disease, which chickens are routinely vaccinated against, Joe says there is no vaccine for this bird flu.  (PBS reported controversies with the "leaky" Marek's vaccine back in 2015.)

In March of last year, however, Science magazine, which has repeatedly venerated Dr. Anthony Fauci, reported an increasing openness to vaccinating flocks.  In "Wrestling with bird flu, Europe considers once-taboo vaccines," they report that Dutch scientists have begun trials of chicken vaccines, while in France, researchers have begun immunizing ducks.  They pause to consider:

Some researchers are concerned that vaccinating, if not done carefully, will allow H5N1 to persist and continue to mix with strains in wild birds, with the risk that it might evolve to spread among people.

The magazine then praises China for its success in creating a successful poultry vaccine that targeted a different strain (H7N9) that was able to spread to people:

Vaccination slashed the prevalence of the virus in poultry and the number of human infections dropped to zero.  That accomplishment "could be replicated everywhere," says virologist Hualan Chen of the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, who developed the vaccines.

"Not so fast," says Joe the egg farmer.  "Once you introduce something like that, you'd better know what you're doing.  Kind of like the COVID vaccine — they'd better know what they're doing."

Besides the bird flu, the cost of eggs is also being pumped up thanks to rising electric and gas prices, as well as high feed and fertilizer prices, which have only recently started to come down.

Despite all of the gloom, Joe concluded with words of encouragement.  "We farmers are great at producing food.  We'll figure it out.  We'll get through it.  And consumers will have inexpensive food again.  We just don't know how far down the road that will be."

Susan D. Harris can be reached at

Image via Good Free Photos.

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