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Bird flu in U.S. might drive up egg prices by the billions, analysts say

Officials say millions of birds have died in the last few months and the flu has impacted about 10 percent of the entire U.S. egg supply.
By Doug G. Ware   |   May 21, 2015 at 9:18 PM

WASHINGTON, May 21 (UPI) -- What do the following foods have in common? Caviar, roasted duck, lobster tails, Kobe beef, sashimi, eggs.

In the near future, they might all be luxury fare -- as the recent outbreak of bird flu in the United States might drive up the price of eggs by the billions, analysts say. While that analogy may be a bit of an exaggeration, experts say the reality is that eggs and egg-related products are already being severely impacted by the virus' spread.

The first case was reported in December and by the end of the month, many cases of H5N2 had gotten on the books. That particular strain of bird flu hasn't been kind to farmers and may now cast a large and expensive shadow over the U.S. egg industry, analysts believe.

Consumers may now have to pay 75 percent more for eggs than they did a year ago, Goldman Sachs analysts said in a report Wednesday.

In dollar figures, that's between $7.5 and $8 million more. And officials estimate that about 10 percent of the entire U.S. egg supply has been affected by the outbreak.

"I can't tell you how many farmers this is affecting," United Egg Producers director Oscar Garrison said. "It's been absolutely devastating. Just abysmal."

The reason for the staggering increase is a direct result of the flu's spread in the U.S. Midwest earlier this year. For two months, farmers battled the outbreak and almost 25 million egg-laying hens died from the disease -- depriving farms of the scores of eggs they certainly would have otherwise laid.

Nearly 40 million birds -- including chickens and turkeys -- have been affected by the outbreak since December, agricultural officials said.

Farmers have been forced to kill hundreds of thousands of their birds in an effort to keep the disease from spreading, which experts believe it will.

"The situation could deteriorate further before it ultimately gets better," the Goldman Sachs analysts noted.

Also, the impact of the U.S. bird flu cases will affect more than just eggs themselves. The effects are likely to accompany many or all products that are made with eggs -- such as mayonnaise and some candies.

Businesses, such as McDonald's and General Mills, are expected to feel the crunch as well. Eggs comprise about 25 percent of McDonald's revenue -- almost twice as much as its competitors, officials say.

The American Egg Board said the average person ate 260 eggs last year alone, meaning consumers should definitely feel the financial impact of this year's bird flu.

Analyst Urner Barry said the price for wholesale breaker eggs reached an all-time high of $1.23 per dozen last week. Liquid egg products, like egg beaters, jumped from 63 cents to $1.50 per dozen by April.

"Look, there is pretty much no doubt that this will have an effect on the supply of all eggs," Garrison said. "That will come with its price consequences."

Analysts and farmers hope that a hot summer will severely weaken and ultimately kill the flu. If it doesn't, farmers may face a similar scenario next year.

© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

Maryland man files lawsuit against Blue Bell over listeriosis

By Danielle Haynes Follow @DanielleHaynes1 Contact the Author   |   May 20, 2015 at 8:58 PM
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AUSTIN, Texas, May 20 (UPI) -- A Maryland man on Tuesday filed the first negligence lawsuit against Blue Bell Creameries for a listeriosis outbreak linked to the company's ice cream products.

David Philip Shockley, a former worker at a Houston retirement community who now lives in Maryland, filed a lawsuit in Austin, Texas, alleging contaminated Blue Bell ice cream is to blame for a severe case of listeriosis that nearly killed him and left him with long-lasting neurological damage.

The lawsuit says Shockley, 32, regularly consumed Blue Bell ice cream at his place of employment prior to becoming ill in 2013. One of Blue Bell's numerous recalls over the past few months specifically included 3-ounce, single servings of ice cream packaged for food service institutions like hospitals.

Blue Bell's years of negligence led to conditions in which listeria could continue to grow and contaminate products at its Brenham, Texas, facility, the lawsuit said.

Shockley "survived but even after well over a year of intensive neurological treatment, therapy and rehabilitation, he continues to suffer from, among other injuries, posterior fossa syndrome (PFS), a severe neurological syndrome caused by damage to the brainstem and cerebellum, and characterized by cognitive, emotional, behavioral, motor, language and speech-related dysfunction," the lawsuit says.

He has since been unable to work and had to return to Maryland to live with his parents.

The lawsuit calls for unspecified punitive damages for medical bills, and past and future loss of work due to Shockley's ongoing health concerns.

Beginning March 13, Blue Bell launched a gradual recall process until April 20 when the company shut down all plants and recalled all products due to multiple positive listeria tests dating back to 2013. Ten illnesses and three deaths were linked to the outbreak.

The company has since announced an extensive cleaning and testing process according to agreements it signed with health departments in Texas and Oklahoma. Blue Bell Creameries has also laid off 1,450 employees, furloughed 1,400 others and reduced the pay of those who remain with the company.

It could be months before the company's products are back on the shelves.

© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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