A highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza (AI), more commonly known as bird flu, is causing a drastic shortage of processed eggs for food manufacturers, including dairy companies. The shortage, now estimated at 20 percent to 25 percent of the processed egg supply, has caused prices for the eggs to climb, leading suppliers to reduce significantly or cancel contracts with food companies. IDFA is currently working with federal agencies, other trade associations and stakeholders to determine possible solutions.
Many dairy companies are affected, because ice cream and custard production traditionally peaks in the spring and summer and eggnog season will follow soon after.
Since December 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed cases of the avian influenza in chicken and turkey flocks at 174 farms in 15 states across the United States. Because there is no vaccine, infected and sometimes even healthy birds must be euthanized to stop the spread of the virus. So far, approximately 39.2 million birds, 33 million of which are laying hens, have been removed from the market, resulting in a drastic dip in egg availability.
The poultry industry estimates that it will take about six months for affected commercial egg flocks to be fully functional again. The warm summer weather is expected to help reduce the spread of the virus, allowing poultry farmers to focus on implementing programs that will prevent outbreaks when fall weather begins.
IDFA is working with the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration, trade associations and affected companies to find possible solutions that would increase the availability of processed eggs or help companies to handle the shortage in the short-term. Proposed solutions include
- attempting to increase imports of processed egg products and shelled eggs for processing in the United States;
- identifying industry and regulatory actions that can improve efficiencies in the egg supply; and
- working with congressional leaders to help them understand the impact of the avian flu on consumers as well as industries that use eggs in production.
Reformulation of products to eliminate eggs as an ingredient is another option. The standards of identity for some dairy products, like frozen custard and eggnog, require minimum amounts of egg yolk solids. However, if the egg is added to a dairy product for a functional reason, such as taste or texture, and not as a mandatory ingredient, other ingredients may be used to provide the same function, at least until the egg supply is restored.
IDFA will keep members updated on the status of the egg shortage and any regulatory progress.
IDFA is available to provide guidance to members on labeling. For more information, contact Emily Lyons, director of regulatory affairs and counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Cary Frye, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, at email@example.com.