Bird flu in Iowa: Will egg prices go up?

Bird flu at commercial egg-laying facility in Iowa unlikely to affect egg prices, experts say

As the top egg-producing state, Iowa is home to about 15% of the nation's laying hens.

The H5N2 avian influenza outbreak discovered at a commercial egg-laying facility in northwest Iowa affects as many as 5.3 million birds -- 10% of the state's egg-laying hens. All of the birds in the Osceola County facility will be euthanized, state agriculture officials say.

Here are a few things to know about the bird flu outbreak and what it means for consumers.

What is the economic impact of the outbreak?

It's too soon to predict the impact on the egg industry, egg farmers or even consumer prices, said Chad Gregory, president and chief executive of United Egg Producers, a trade group that represents many of the farms that raise egg-laying hens.

Iowa State University economist David Swenson said the nation's supply of egg-laying hens will not decrease greatly because Iowa only has a total of 15% of these birds. Poultry and egg production makes up about 4% of the total agricultural sales of Osceola County, where the affected facility is located.

"It's a big deal for the producer, bad news for whomever might be buying from that producer, but in terms of that region’s egg economy, it's still a comparatively small fraction of agricultural activity,” Swenson said.

Does the bird flu outbreak affect California consumers?

Most of Iowa's eggs go to food production facilities in the Midwest, so there should be little effect in California, Swenson said.

"You're going to produce and sell reasonably close to demand," he said. If the bird flu outbreak spreads, "those production impacts are going to be concentrated in the Midwest."

Is this outbreak of bird flu contained?

This outbreak of bird flu, the second reported in Iowa this month, is a sign that routine screening for the disease is working, said R. Scott Beyer, an associate professor at Kansas State University and state extension poultry specialist.

He said birds are regularly tested for avian flu and many other flus.

"Biosecurity is very important now," he said. "We don’t ever want the risk of mutations or the transferring of genes."

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