Avian flu and consumer demands are changing the poultry industry

Avian flu and consumer demands are changing the poultry industry

Avian flu caused producers to reevaluate their business, but consumer attitudes are driving change, too

The price of eggs, which this year hit an all-time high of nearly $4 per dozen, is coming down as poultry producers rebound from a devastating outbreak of avian flu.

Related: Harrisvaccines earns conditional avian flu vaccine license

"The estimates are somewhere near 50 million total birds lost to the disease. About half of these were egg layers," said Jeffre Firman, poultry specialist for University of Missouri Extension. "But we're starting to see the number of birds go back up and prices come down."

Avian flu caused producers to reevaluate their business, but consumer attitudes are driving change, too

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates a loss of nearly 30,000 birds in Missouri. That's small compared to the millions of birds lost to avian flu in Iowa, the country's No. 1 egg-laying state.

The practice of concentrating a large number of birds in a single area made the avian flu outbreak devastating.

"You see farms with millions of birds in one location. If you get an outbreak you're in real trouble at that location," Firman said.

Taking a look at the business
The threat of disease has the poultry industry looking at the way they do business, he says. But that's not the only driver for change.

Consumer attitudes are shifting. Firman says many consumers want cage-free chickens and eggs, and retailers are responding. This year McDonald's Corp. announced that within 10 years all of its eggs would be from cage-free birds. Firman says already we're seeing 2 million new cage-free layers in Missouri.

"So, as we shift the industry to a more cage-free layer operation, we'll see more smaller farms," he said. "That would be good news for Missouri."

Related: Avian flu vaccine being stockpiled, but virus can quickly change

Smaller farms with 20,000-100,000 birds would mean thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in sales and a healthy boost to Missouri's rural economy, Firman said.

Still, the threat of avian flu is always present.

"For the consumer, you may have to pay a little bit more for eggs, but that'll straighten itself out by next spring for sure," Firman said. "The big concern is long term. Are we going to have avian flu problems year after year?"

Source: University of Missouri Extension

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