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Grocery Manufacturers: Bird Flu Crisis Affecting Egg Supply

A widespread egg shortage—first felt at the supplier level earlier this year due to an outbreak of bird flu—is starting to have a dire effect for food manufacturers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association says. The association's message to its members? Brace yourself.

A widespread egg shortage—first felt at the supplier level earlier this year due to an outbreak of bird flu—is starting to hurt food manufacturers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association says. Its message to its members? Brace yourself.

Sorry, Whataburger fans. You won’t be able to have an egg biscuit for your fourthmeal anymore—at least for a while.

The reason for that involves an issue that’s giving the Grocery Manufacturers Association a bit of a headache at the moment: an egg shortage.

Whataburger announced last week that its fast-food franchises are cutting back the hours they serve breakfast foods from 12 hours a day to four on weekdays and six on weekends. The move highlights the lingering issues that a recent bird flu outbreak has created for the food industry.

The outbreak, which affected poultry manufacturers in numerous states, caused many factory farms to take drastic steps to ensure the flu didn’t spread. In some cases, this meant euthanizing millions of birds.

“I can’t tell you how many farmers this is affecting,” United Egg Producers (UEP) Director of Food Safety Oscar Garrison recently told The Washington Post. “It’s been absolutely devastating. Just abysmal.”

And Whataburger is far from the only food company directly affected by the outbreak. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) implied in a recent blog entry that the outbreak is beginning to affect food processors that use eggs in prepackaged meals and snacks.

“When we look at how eggs are used, more than half go to the grocery store, usually sold by the dozen,” the association’s vice president of science operations, Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D., wrote in the blog post. “Nearly a third are pasteurized (to kill bacteria that could cause human illness) and are then used in processed food products. At this stage, it’s estimated that about 25 percent of the eggs that go toward processing have been impacted.”

McEntire suggested that the crisis could be offset in two ways: by focusing on increased efficiency in the usage of eggs and by ensuring that the avian flu doesn’t spread any further.

“Hopefully, a multipronged approach by the numerous regulators, governments, industry members, and other stakeholders will be successful in addressing this issue to avoid consumer impacts,” McEntire concluded. “Let’s view this as an opportunity to work collectively.”

But fighting the disease may be easier said than done. The Post report notes that there is only limited understanding of the virus. (That said, it does not seem to affect humans.)

“How can you figure out how it’s spreading from farm to farm, and state to state, when you don’t even know the mechanism by which it’s spreading?” UEP’s Garrison said. “How can you build a fence when you don’t know how big it needs to be, or what it needs to be made of?”

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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