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 Programs End  

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

On the heels of rising egg prices in grocery stores across the state and the worst U.S. Bird Flu outbreak in a generation, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged Congress to stop proposed cuts of $500 million dollars recently made to crucial United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds, which is part of the federal budget. These research-based funds are essential to farmers and scientists as they look to beat back threats like Avian Influenza, also known as the ‘Bird Flu.’

Schumer explained how the recently proposed slash to USDA programming comes at the worst time—in the midst of a national agriculture crisis—and will starve the agency from the funding it needs to combat avian influenza. This could lead to egg prices climbing even higher for both consumers and small businesses, like bakeries and restaurants.

The USDA research funds slashed by Congress could help pay for efforts like vaccination development against the bird flu, ‘biosecurity’ measures that help farmers reduce the spread of the deadly disease and USDA response measures. With the massive cut to these USDA funds, consumers are now left with climbing grocery bills while farmers across the country are kept wondering if this outbreak will get worse. Already, more than 48 million birds have died, leaving the Midwest hard hit and consumers hard pressed to afford eggs that are reaching all-time price peaks. In addition, the spike in egg prices trickles down to other foods consumers might soon feel the price pinch on. These include most baked goods like cakes and breads, several condiments like salad dressings or mayonnaise, and even pastas. Schumer pointed out that even egg substitutes contain egg whites, so avoiding the effects of the Bird Flu on wallets is going to be a difficult thing for consumers to accomplish.

Schumer pointed out that since last month, the price of eggs has ballooned, and almost doubled in some locations, compared to last year. In fact, when you factor in the price of wholesale eggs—the eggs used by restaurants and bakeries—this  increase tops 200%. 

“When the cost of eggs skyrockets, we all feel it in our wallets because, unlike other foods, most egg substitutes use egg ingredients. Yet, despite being hit with one of the worst bird flu outbreaks of our generation and sky-high egg prices, Congress is looking to slash $500 million from the USDA’s budget to beat back Avian influenza. This funding can be used towards preventing the outbreak from spreading. I am urging Congress to give USDA the funds it needs before the egg shortage gets worse, and before grocery bills continue to rise,” said Senator Schumer.

As of June 17, 2015 the USDA reported over 48 million birds 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. This is one of the worst cases of bird flu the country has ever seen. In fact, 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.

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. This has been one of the worst bird flu outbreaks in the United States. 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.    

As the supply has fallen, the price of eggs have increased across the country, which hurts 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 $1.42.  Today, in New York City, the average price of a dozen shelled eggs is $4.08. Specifically, in New York City, a dozen eggs at Food Emporium are now $4.99, compared to $3.69 last month (up 35 percent); a dozen eggs at Waldbaum’s are now $3.79, as compared to $2.59 last month (up 46 percent); a dozen eggs at Stuy-Town’s Associated Supermarkets are $3.69, compared to $2.50 last month (up 48 percent).

Restaurants and other food producers are also feeling the effects of the egg shortage. For instance, “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.

According to the USDA, “the vaccines currently available are not well matched and do not meet a suitable level of efficacy.” Right now, there is a lack of effective vaccines for the highly pathogenic avian influenza. The vaccine currently available offers just 60 percent effectiveness, meaning that 4 in 10 birds will remain unprotected. Schumer explained that the $500 million dollar proposal by Congress to slash USDA research funds should be used towards developing a new, more effective ways to prevent bird flu, amongst other efforts described above. 

Schumer today urged Congress to give USDA the $500M in funding it plans to cut from USDA programs and vowed to make a major push in Washington to stop the cut before it could become law at the end of this summer. Schumer said that the funding should be used to help pay for efforts like vaccination development against the bird flu, ‘biosecurity’ measures to help farmers reduce the spread of the deadly disease, special USDA response measures and understanding how the virus is transmitted. 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.


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