U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger is pressing the USDA on “exorbitant” egg prices, calling for help to lower the cost burden for Virginia families and to address the risks that the avian flu poses to Virginia poultry producers.
Spanberger, who sits on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack calling the current situation a “crisis.” She said she’s deeply concerned about the impact of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) on poultry farmers suffering economic losses and the exorbitant prices consumers are paying.
With the prices up about 60% from December 2021 to December 2022, the price of eggs has risen more than any other grocery item, according to a statement from Spanberger’s office.
“As a mother of three children, I know how important this nutritious food staple can be to families, and how fast a family can go through a carton of eggs. These costs add up for families,” she stated.
Industry leaders have given a variety of reasons for the steep price hikes, including higher feed prices, fuel, and labor costs. Exacerbating matters, “the United States has experienced an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza over the past year that has impacted about 40 million laying hens across the country,” Virginia Poultry Federation President Hobey Bauhan explained this month.
Although Virginia flocks haven’t been widely impacted by the avian flu, most of the eggs consumed by Virginians aren’t produced in Virginia. The bulk of the Commonwealth’s supply comes from major egg-producing states like Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, some of which have been hit hard by the spreading virus.
However, Virginia hasn’t completely escaped the wave of disease. This month, the state’s first positive case of HPAI was confirmed on a Rockingham County turkey farm, and 25,000 birds were killed to prevent the spread of the disease.
When HPAI is detected “not only do you have to euthanize the birds and dispose of them, you have to clean the henhouse like crazy then wait a certain period of time to be inspected,” Mary Rapoport, educational director for the Virginia Egg Council explained in the Greene County Record. It takes several months for a farmer to get an egg-laying hen flock back to full capacity after a depopulation event, the article added.
That risk is part of Spanberger’s concern.
In her statement, she acknowledged that poultry farmers receive USDA payments for the birds and eggs lost due to an outbreak. But farmers are not compensated for birds that die before the confirmation of HPAI or for lost income from barns and hen houses being idle after an outbreak, she said.
Spanberger requested a Congressional briefing that will outline the USDA’s efforts to provide relief to farmers whose flocks have been impacted, as well as the Department’s efforts to prepare other poultry farmers on the appropriate biosecurity efforts to protect their flocks. She also wants clarity on whether the USDA requires additional funding or authorities from Congress to respond to outbreaks and provide support to state agencies and industry partners.
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