The age-old debate over what came first – the egg or the chicken – might still be awaiting closure.
But Americans have no doubt absolutely about what’s causing the omelette to leave a bitter taste, metaphorically at least, in their mouths.
Prices of eggs – one of the most popular food items, boiled, scrambled or even raw – have touched jaw-dropping heights in the country, which is already facing high levels of inflation.
According to a report by the US Department of Agriculture that tracks food price outlook, egg prices rose by 59 percent in December 2022, the highest year-on-year rise in prices among food items.
The average cost for a dozen eggs in US cities reached $4.25, up $1.78 from a year earlier.
Eggs are easy to cook, protein-dense and supply many daily vitamins needed for healthy living, making them a popular meal or ingredient.
So when egg prices rise, people notice.
The American Egg Board has blamed the price rise on an unprecedented avian flu outbreak with a near 100 percent fatality rate among birds.
On the other hand, one group alleges that the trend is due to something more nefarious than simple economics.
Here are some factors that explain why egg prices are skyrocketing in the US.
Avian flu is considered the reason why egg prices are increasing in the US. Even though it’s not the only reason, bird flu significantly impacts growing egg prices.
The outbreak since 2022 has already affected more birds than the 2015 outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
According to the CDC, the avian flu affects more than 100 species of birds and can spread quickly, with a mortality rate of 90 percent to 100 percent in chickens.
To stop the spread of avian flu where the illness is suspected, farmers are instructed to kill flocks all at once, something the industry calls “depopulation,” a kind of mass killing.
Over the past year, roughly 43 million of the 58 million affected chickens slaughtered have been egg-laying chickens. This is an enormous amount of chickens, and the mass killing of them means a shortage of egg production that affects the price.
The size of the total flock nationwide has been down five to six percent from its average size of about 320 million hens.
READ MORE: Avian flu outbreak kills more than 50M birds in US
Even though bird flu seems to be the main factor behind the growing egg price, consumer eating habits also play a part in the sudden rise in egg prices. According to the USDA, egg consumption has also risen 17 percent between 2012 and 2021 and has even outpaced red meats.
The rising cost of eggs in the US is denting household budgets. Americans in recent years have increased the number of eggs they consume while reducing their intake of beef and venison, according to data from USDA.
Egg consumption has grown in part because more families are eating them as their main protein substitute, Los Angeles Times reporter Sonja Sharp told CBS News. “Each of us eats about as many eggs as one hen can lay a year,” she said.
Consumer demand for eggs has also been buoyed by a pivot away from some higher-cost proteins amid broader food inflation, the USDA suggested in an October outlook report.
Tim Burke, Owner of a pickle restaurant, tells PBS, “I would say 70 percent of our menu has eggs in it or revolves around eggs or is egg-centric in some way.”
“So, omelettes, scrambles. It’s in our pancake, in our waffle mix, in the French toast mix. People even put eggs on hamburgers, too, so it even crosses over to lunch. We have hard-boiled eggs in our salads…just a lot of eggs,” he said.
Increasing inflation is another reason behind the record egg prices, as farmers have been dealing with the soaring cost of feed, fuel, and labour.
Jeff Smith, one of the owners of Cackle Hatchery in Missouri, told The New York Times that they are charging more because of increased labour and equipment costs.
“One of our biggest cost increases is continuing to raise wages to compete,” he said.