Worst Bird Flu Outbreak In Generation Has Killed 48 Million Birds, Constricting Egg Supply & Increasing Grocery Bills; Could Hit Other Food Products Soon, Like Condiments & Bread, Could Get Worse This Fall 

Impacts of Bird Flu Could Last 18-24 Months; Senator Says Slashing $500M From USDA Budget That Could Help Prevent Spread of Illness or Find Cure Makes No Sense; Schumer Demands Mindless Cuts To These Programs End  

Schumer To Congress: Crisis Could Get Even Worse; Consumers Will Suffer    

On a conference call reporters, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer said egg prices in grocery stores across Upstate New York are increasing due to the worst Bird Flu outbreak in a generation, which caused the culling of millions of birds and a shortage in the overall egg supply. Schumer therefore urged Congress to stop a proposed $500 million cut to crucial United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research funding. These funds are slated to be cut, despite providing essential resources to farmers and scientists as they look to beat back threats like Avian Influenza, also known as the ‘Bird Flu.’ Schumer said the recently proposed slash to USDA research funding will restrain the ability of the agency to combat avian influenza and other potentially damaging animal diseases, which could further increase egg prices for both New York State consumers and small businesses, like bakeries and restaurants.

Previously, these USDA funds have helped pay for efforts like vaccination development against the bird flu, research on transmission, and research on biosecurity measures that help farmers reduce the spread of this deadly disease. Schumer said with this massive cut in federal funds, consumers who are already seeing climbing grocery bills are concerned prices would continue to rise and farmers across the country are worried this outbreak could get worse.

“When the cost of eggs skyrockets, we all feel it in our wallets. Despite being hit with one of the worst bird flu outbreaks in a generation, and ask egg prices are rising sky-high, Congress is looking to cut $500 million from the USDA’s budget to help beat back the bird flu that caused this shortage and price increase in the first place. It defies logic that Congress would cut funding to help our farmers prevent this outbreak from spreading in the midst of a national agriculture crisis. So I am urging Congress to give USDA the research funds it needs before this egg shortage gets worse, and before grocery bills continue to rise and squeeze middle-class families,” said Schumer.

Schumer explained that the USDA uses $500 million of its funds, which are a part of the federal budget, to work with farmers and scientists as they research and develop ways to curb the threats like the bird flu. However, the recently passed House and Senate Appropriations Committees would cut USDA funding at the worst time – in the midst of a national agriculture crisis. Schumer said this would effectively starve the agency from the funding it needs to combat threats like avian influenza. Already, more than 48 million birds have died, leaving the Midwest hard-hit and consumers hard-pressed to afford eggs that are reaching the highest prices in a decade. What’s more, Schumer said the spike in egg prices is already impacting other food products made with eggs, including pastas and condiments like salad dressings and mayonnaise. Schumer pointed out that even egg substitutes contain egg whites. In addition, the rise in egg prices is affecting small businesses like bakeries and restaurants, who use eggs to make cakes and breads.

Since last month, the price of eggs has increased more than 35 percent of the retail price, and as much as 85 percent of the wholesale price, in some locations compared to last year. For example, Schumer said that many grocers throughout Upstate New York – including Wegmans, Price Chopper, Hannaford, Tops and Stop and Shop – have all reported seeing increases of 35-40 percent in egg prices over the last month. One store reported the price of a carton of eggs is now being sold for $2.89, roughly a 40 cent increase from the previous month. Therefore, Schumer is urging his colleagues in Congress to provide the USDA the $500 million in research funding it needs. Schumer vowed to fight this cut before it could become law at the end of this summer. Overall, Schumer explained that this funding can help prevent a future outbreak from occurring, while at the same time saving both consumers and farmers from continued angst.

As the supply of eggs has fallen, the price of eggs have increased across the country, hurting both producers and customers. For instance, one of the largest supermarket chains in Texas recently imposed a 3 carton limit per customer. In shell eggs, the average price per dozen has nearly doubled since the end of May. The New York Times reported that the average wholesale price for one dozen eggs in New York will range from $1.60 to $1.66, which breaks the 2014 record of $1. Restaurants and other food producers are also feeling the effects of the egg shortage. For example, “breaker” eggs, which are sold in liquid form to restaurants and packaged-food-producers, including McDonald’s, increased by 273 percent. According to The New York Times, companies including Panera Bread and General Mills have said they are seeking other supplies and substitute ingredients because of the egg shortage.

As of June 17, 2015 the USDA reported over 48 million birds were affected by highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N2), with 223 reported detections since December of 2014. The bird flu has spread rapidly; in April, less than 1 million cases were reported. Schumer explained that many American farmers had never had to deal with such an outbreak and scientists are still researching how exactly it spreads. Furthermore, industry analysts predict this latest outbreak could stretch for another 18-24 months, making Schumer’s push all the more necessary. Schumer explained that the proposal by Congress to cut $500 million from USDA research funds should be used towards developing a new, more effective ways to prevent bird flu, amongst other efforts described above.

Approximately 80 percent of birds affected by avian influenza have been egg-laying hens. Nationwide, approximately 10 percent of all egg-laying hens have been infected, making this one of the worst bird flu outbreaks in the U.S. to date. According to the USDA, egg production this year is expected to drop 5.3 percent from 2014. Because stocks have been so severely depleted and will not be replenished for a period of time, the price of shelled eggs and liquid eggs have risen to unprecedented levels.   


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