Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/6/2015 (2322 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Washington Post last week posted a series of seven maps and charts it says will "explain the looming egg crisis that everyone will soon be talking about."
Well, in the U.S. anyway.
But for two flocks infected in Ontario in April, Canada has largely been spared the devastation of the H5N2 epidemic that, at last count, has made its way into 21 U.S. states and resulted in the loss of more than 47 million domestic birds -- mostly egg layers and turkeys. Twelve per cent of the nation's egg-laying capacity has been wiped out in a matter of weeks.
The number of affected flocks is 222 and counting. It's making headlines in the likes of major U.S. publications including the Post, New Yorker Magazine and Time, largely because of the estimated 25 to 30 per cent increase this will mean for the price of eggs and the potential for shortages. Some stores are rationing egg purchases.
Reuters reports supplies of breaker eggs -- liquid, dried or frozen eggs used by food manufacturers -- are down 30 per cent, leaving processors scrambling to find alternative sources through imports or egg alternatives.
Until those egg prices started rising, the epidemic was largely unnoticed by the urban consumer. Incidentally, consumers are also the taxpayers who will be paying the estimated $500 million for cleanup and producer compensation.
Export markets for poultry have dried up as countries close their borders, ironically causing a glut of chickens in the U.S. and lower market prices.
This is affecting grain farmers, too. Analysts have said that once this is over, it will take up to two years for egg producers to recover and rebuild. That means less demand for feed grain. Prices were already under pressure.
People living in the infected areas have been too busy holding their noses to worry about the financial impact.
State officials in Indiana are training prison inmates to help euthanize birds and cleaning up the aftermath. Reuters reports the stench of dead birds was so overpowering, neighbours were leaving the infected areas in the hardest -hit state of Iowa. Poultry exhibitions are being cancelled at state fairs and people are staying off bicycle paths near waterways for fear their tires will pick up contaminated bird feces and carry the virus someplace else.
Researchers believe the virus is spread from region to region by migratory waterfowl. The wild birds act as a reservoir for the disease, but they've adapted so it rarely makes them sick.
But just as with the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), which wiped out seven million pigs or 10 per cent of the U.S. pig population in 2014, the ability of disease to get through biosecurity barriers designed to keep it out of barns has the industry flummoxed.
Earl Brown, a professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa who spent most of his career studying the relationship between birds and viruses, told the Manitoba Co-operator recently that U.S.-style poultry production methods -- in which millions of birds are kept at one site -- have created an ideal environment for these viruses to mutate into more virulent forms. Viruses can quickly move from bird to bird within those operations, mutating into more destructive forms as they go.
As well, disease-containment efforts euthanize all birds, including the ones that might have survived -- so no genetic immunity evolves. The population becomes ever more vulnerable. Is more biosecurity the answer?
People can only speculate as to why Canada, which sits on the same migratory flyways as the affected regions in the U.S., hasn't seen higher losses. That might change.
But some believe it has something to do with scale -- poultry operations in this country are smaller and more widely dispersed. Supply-management quotas limit the volume of eggs farmers can produce, but ensures producers get high enough prices to be profitable.
Canada's system comes at a cost, which is often cited by those who want to deregulate the system. But it will be a long time before the U.S. can go back to calling itself a "low-cost producer."
Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 792-4382 or by email: email@example.com
Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.