Egg prices soar again as bird flu outbreak reaches ‘never seen before’ numbers

The latest outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1), otherwise known as avian influenza, among wild and farmed birds requires an unprecedented coordinated response, according to a new study published in the journal Conservation biology. But should we consider alternatives instead?

H5N1 spread across the United States and made headlines when the price of eggs began to soar earlier this year and fears of the next zoonotic pandemic crept into the popular media.

The study’s University of Maryland research team is tracking the arrival and spread of the deadly virus and found that the impact on wild birds and the shift from seasonal to year-round infections signal dangerous changes in the population. bird flu in the United States. The team also suggest that H5N1 is likely to become endemic, posing potential risks to food security and the economy.

“We’ve been dealing with low pathogenic avian influenza for decades in the poultry industry, but this is different,” said Jennifer Mullinax, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology and co-author of the study. .

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“This highly pathogenic virus is wiping out everything in numbers we’ve never seen before,” Mullinax said.

Mullinax points out that this is an urgent matter that cannot continue to be hidden in the animal agriculture sector. “This paper illustrates how unprecedented it is and describes what we think is coming,” Mullinax said.

“It’s really a call to arms that says, we can’t afford to tackle this from our individual silos,” he said. “Federal agencies, state agencies, the agricultural sector and wildlife management – ​​we are all going to have to address this together, because we can’t afford not to.”

How bird flu affects farm animals

The team’s conclusions are based on an analysis of five different data sources providing information on the incidence of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds and poultry flocks, focusing on the United States and Canada, as well as a database global from 2014 to early 2023.

Data show the progression of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza as it spread from Eurasia to the United States, where it was first documented in late 2021. As of October 2022, the disease had resulted in 31 mass deaths of wild birds , equal to approximately 33,504 detections of wild birds in the United States and Canada. In addition, more than 58 million farm chickens were infected or had to be culled to limit the spread of infection in the United States and 7 million in Canada.


Similarly, in 2015, an outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N8 in the United States led to the culling of 50 million farmed chickens.

But H5N1 poses new challenges because it affects wild birds, making them more difficult to contain.

“Unlike H5N8, this disease has a major impact on wild birds,” said Johanna Harvey, postdoctoral researcher at UMD and lead author of the study. “It is difficult to estimate how many birds are truly affected among wild populations, but we are seeing dramatic impacts of the disease in raptors, seabirds and colony nesting birds. And we now have the highest amount of poultry lost to bird flu, so this is the worst-case scenario.”

The data also reveals a shift from a seasonal disease to a year-round disease. Previous outbreaks of avian influenza, whether low pathogenic viruses endemic to the United States or highly pathogenic H5N8 in 2015, have typically occurred in the fall. With seasonal events, farmers prepare by culling flocks of farmed chickens to halt the spread of the disease and have nearly a full year to “catch up”.


But, according to the study, this new virus appears sustained throughout the year, with summertime disease outbreaks in wild birds and farmed chicken outbreaks occurring in both spring and fall.

The paper outlines examples of potential triggers for action, identifying the relevant decision makers needed to coordinate a response and some of the challenges that may arise. The researchers hope their work will bring key players to the table to consider next steps.

Are vegan eggs the solution?

One such next step could be to find alternatives to chicken farming altogether. In recent years, a number of startups have been working on solutions to the deadly problems that come with raising chickens. From liquid vegan eggs that can be scrambled to whole poached eggs, innovation in this category is improving rapidly.

Vegan brand Eat Just was one of the first to enter the space with its mung bean-based pourable Just Egg, which can be scrambled and used in dishes like quiches. Startups like WunderEgg, made by Crafty Counter, have successfully replicated a boiled egg.

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And then there’s Yo! Egg, now working vegan poached egg, complete with a runny yolk.

All of these brands are working towards a future where eggs can be enjoyed harmlessly and without the volatility of the animal farming industry.

“At Yo Egg, we believe that hens are no longer needed in the egg production process,” Eran Groner, co-founder and CEO of Yo Egg, previously told VegNews.

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