When Will the Egg Shortage End? Experts Are Divided

Experts are divided on whether skyrocketing egg prices will finally start dropping again in the coming months, or whether the conditions that brought about the current egg shortage will worsen.

There are two reasons why eggs have gotten so expensive that they have become the subjects of memes on social media. First, a bird-flu outbreak has killed millions of poultry in the U.S. and in dozens of countries worldwide. Second, the pandemic-era supply-chain disruptions have increased the costs of transportation, feed and packaging.

The bird-flu outbreak, first identified in February 2022, has forced millions of poultry to be culled or put under lockdown around the world. In the U.S., more than 58 million birds in 47 states were affected by the virus, according to the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Egg cartons in U.S. retail shop
Cartons of eggs pictured at a grocery store in Washington, DC, on January 19, 2023. The price of the foodstuff has increased over the last year because of an avian-flu outbreak that has hit chicken farms across the U.S. STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

Bird flu normally comes and goes. Outbreaks usually start during the spring migration and are contained in the following months. But this has not been the case for the current wave, fueling the surge in prices and the shortages reported across the country.

"The main driver [of the shortage] has been highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)," Mary Muth, senior director in Food Economics and Policy at RTI International in North Carolina, told Newsweek.

"When egg-laying hens become infected, producers must depopulate flocks to prevent further spread of the disease. Egg price increases have also occurred because of rising costs of production associated with feed, labor and energy, but these factors likely contribute less than the effects of HPAI," Muth added.

The impact of the outbreak, combined with the increased costs of producing eggs, have brought a decline in production and inventory of shell eggs over the past year, resulting in higher market prices.

"Because other foods cannot easily substitute for eggs, particularly in recipes, the demand for eggs by consumers, restaurants, and food manufacturers has not declined substantially," Muth said.

In December, according to the federal bank of St. Louis, the average cost for a dozen eggs in U.S. cities reached $4.25, $1.78 more than a year earlier. In several states in the Midwest, the average price for a dozen eggs more than doubled.

As Easter and a new spring migration approaches, the future of eggs appears uncertain. The migrations could worsen the current avian-flu outbreak, leading to more infections among American egg-laying hens and worsening the shortage in the country.

However, as things stand now, Muth believes that the coming months could bring a positive change—given some time for the newly born hens to grow.

"Barring another outbreak of HPAI, the supply of eggs should begin to improve within the year as producers re-establish flocks that were depopulated," Muth said. "However, it will take several months to hatch and raise new egg-laying hens to the point where they are at full production."

On the other hand, the Chicago-based American Egg Board (AEB), an organization supporting egg farmers in the U.S., says that the situation is already under control. The AEB adds that the current situation cannot even be called a shortage.

"We've had reports of temporary shortages in scattered locations, and our farmers have been working closely with each other and their customers to ensure everyone gets the eggs they need," an AEB statement sent to Newsweek reads.

"We've got about 6 percent fewer hens laying eggs right now than would normally, which can be attributed to HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza)."

According to the AEB, there are typically about 320 million egg-laying hens in the U.S., and the USDA estimates say there are about 303 million right now.

"We're recovering quickly, but we're not all the way back yet," the AEB wrote. "We've got more than 300 million egg-laying chickens in this country—almost one bird for every American—so any shortages you see are isolated and are being swiftly corrected. Sit tight. Eggs are on the way."