BuzzFeed News

Reporting To You

science

7 Ways The Bird Flu Will Screw Up Your Breakfast And Life

The biggest bird flu ever in the U.S. has forced farmers to euthanize more than 47 million birds. Here's what that means for the egg market, state fairs, and your health.

Posted on June 11, 2015, at 7:01 a.m. ET

The U.S. is in the midst of its biggest bird flu outbreak in its history. Since the virus strains, known as the Highly-Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5 viruses (HPAI H5), were first carried to U.S. shores by wild birds in December of last year, the outbreak has killed 222 birds nationwide. But more than 47 million birds across 21 states have been euthanized by farmers trying to prevent the disease from spreading further. While the incidence of new cases seems to be slowing down, long-term effects remain. Here are seven weird — and potentially serious — consequences of 2015's bird flu outbreak. Hold on to your Egg McMuffins.
Charlie Neibergall / AP

The U.S. is in the midst of its biggest bird flu outbreak in its history. Since the virus strains, known as the Highly-Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5 viruses (HPAI H5), were first carried to U.S. shores by wild birds in December of last year, the outbreak has killed 222 birds nationwide.

But more than 47 million birds across 21 states have been euthanized by farmers trying to prevent the disease from spreading further.

While the incidence of new cases seems to be slowing down, long-term effects remain. Here are seven weird — and potentially serious — consequences of 2015's bird flu outbreak. Hold on to your Egg McMuffins.

1. Egg prices are skyrocketing, and will stay high for awhile.

According to the Des Moines Register, egg prices at some supermarkets have almost tripled. Across the midwest, used as a benchmark for the rest of the country, egg prices have gone from $1.19 just before the outbreak to $2.62, Brian Moscogiuri, a reporter at egg market analysis firm Urner Barry, told BuzzFeed News.

"This is unprecedented. We're quoting record highs across the whole market," Barry said.

2. Don't even think about hoarding eggs.

Texas chain grocery store H-E-B is reportedly limiting its customers to a maximum of three cartons of eggs per shopping trip "in order to ensure the availability of eggs for all Texas families," according to a local ABC news affiliate.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Texas chain grocery store H-E-B is reportedly limiting its customers to a maximum of three cartons of eggs per shopping trip "in order to ensure the availability of eggs for all Texas families," according to a local ABC news affiliate.

3. Fast-food breakfast may be in peril.

Last week, Whataburger announced it will be cutting down on breakfast hours at its 800 chain restaurants nationwide, according to AP. Rather than a 12-hour window to get your bacon-egg-and-cheese fix, Whataburger is cutting breakfast hours down to early birds only: 5 am to 9 am on weekdays, and 5 am to 11 am on weekends. Other chains, including IHOP, Dunkin' Donuts, and Taco Bell, are keeping a close eye on the situation. McDonald's is switching one of its egg suppliers, but won't be nixing breakfast hours any time soon. "We do not anticipate an impact to our ability to supply eggs to our restaurants and serve our customers," a McDonald's representative told BuzzFeed News.
Whataburger

Last week, Whataburger announced it will be cutting down on breakfast hours at its 800 chain restaurants nationwide, according to AP. Rather than a 12-hour window to get your bacon-egg-and-cheese fix, Whataburger is cutting breakfast hours down to early birds only: 5 am to 9 am on weekdays, and 5 am to 11 am on weekends.

Other chains, including IHOP, Dunkin' Donuts, and Taco Bell, are keeping a close eye on the situation. McDonald's is switching one of its egg suppliers, but won't be nixing breakfast hours any time soon. "We do not anticipate an impact to our ability to supply eggs to our restaurants and serve our customers," a McDonald's representative told BuzzFeed News.

ADVERTISEMENT

4. For the first time in over a decade, we're going to have to import eggs from Europe.

Of the 47 million birds that have had to be killed, about 35 million — nearly three-quarters — were egg-laying hens.Usually U.S. chickens lay enough eggs to feed us and then some — more than 30 million dozen leftover eggs are exported to Mexico and Canada. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has occasionally allowed imports of egg products from Canada, but the recent scramble for eggs has sent the U.S. looking for more sources. Last week, the USDA announced that we'll begin importing eggs from the Netherlands to counter the shortage, according to AP. It'll be the first time eggs have been imported into the U.S. from Europe since 2002.
Wikimedia

Of the 47 million birds that have had to be killed, about 35 million — nearly three-quarters — were egg-laying hens.

Usually U.S. chickens lay enough eggs to feed us and then some — more than 30 million dozen leftover eggs are exported to Mexico and Canada. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has occasionally allowed imports of egg products from Canada, but the recent scramble for eggs has sent the U.S. looking for more sources.

Last week, the USDA announced that we'll begin importing eggs from the Netherlands to counter the shortage, according to AP. It'll be the first time eggs have been imported into the U.S. from Europe since 2002.

5. State fairs are taking a big hit.

State fairs — big summertime events for residents of the Midwestern states hit hardest by the outbreak — are going to go bird-free this year. Acccording to Fusion, the Iowa and Minnesota health departments have banned live poultry exhibits at their state fairs, while Minnesota is extending this to any venues where live poultry might come into contact with people — such as petting zoos — for the rest of the year. The live birds will be replaced by "interactive exhibits" about the poultry industry, sans interactions with any actual chickens. Illinois, which has yet to be hit by the bird flu, is also exercising caution in the state fair department: Its Department of Agriculture has announced that it'll be paying close attention to any chickens brought onto the state's 103 county fairs and enforcing strict biosecurity measures.
Patti Longmire / AP

State fairs — big summertime events for residents of the Midwestern states hit hardest by the outbreak — are going to go bird-free this year.

Acccording to Fusion, the Iowa and Minnesota health departments have banned live poultry exhibits at their state fairs, while Minnesota is extending this to any venues where live poultry might come into contact with people — such as petting zoos — for the rest of the year. The live birds will be replaced by "interactive exhibits" about the poultry industry, sans interactions with any actual chickens.

Illinois, which has yet to be hit by the bird flu, is also exercising caution in the state fair department: Its Department of Agriculture has announced that it'll be paying close attention to any chickens brought onto the state's 103 county fairs and enforcing strict biosecurity measures.

6. It could take up to two years — and half a billion dollars — to get our chicken population back to scratch.

According to Bloomberg, the bird flu outbreak is going to cause egg production on U.S. soil to fall for the first time since 2008. It could take anywhere from 18 months to two years to get numbers of egg-laying hens back to their 2014 numbers. The amount of money it will cost the government to fight the outbreak and compensate farmers for their losses is astounding: up to $500 million, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

According to Bloomberg, the bird flu outbreak is going to cause egg production on U.S. soil to fall for the first time since 2008. It could take anywhere from 18 months to two years to get numbers of egg-laying hens back to their 2014 numbers.

The amount of money it will cost the government to fight the outbreak and compensate farmers for their losses is astounding: up to $500 million, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

7. The threat of the bird flu spreading to humans is low, but it's not impossible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stressed that it considers the threat to the general public from the new HPAI H5 viruses to be low, though risks among people who come into contact with infected birds may be higher. No human infections have yet been reported.

However, the agency also stresses that, if the bird flu does spread to humans, the viruses have the potential to cause severe disease. Clinicians are on alert, and individuals who work with birds are advised to avoid unprotected exposure to sick or dead animals, bird poop, or any surfaces thought to be contaminated. No vaccines are yet available for this strain of the flu, but efforts are underway.

Some experts say we need to be more worried about the bird flu, which did make the jump from animals to humans in a previous outbreak in 1996.

"Now we have a highly pathogenic virus in wild birds that jumped to domestic [flocks] and caused a highly pathogenic outbreak in domestic poultry," David Suarez, a research leader at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Monday. "This is an all-hands-on-deck situation."

This article has been changed to say that the 47 million birds were "euthanized" rather than "killed" in order to clarify that the animals were put down using humane methods.

The name of the Texas grocery store chain is H-E-B, not H-E-M.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT