Bird flu leads to cheaper chicken in the US


A bird flu out­break in the Mid­west that’s boosted prices for eggs and roast­ing tur­keys has ac­tu­ally re­sulted in cheaper chicken in the U.S., as many coun­tries re­strict im­ports of poul­try prod­ucts, the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture said in a re­port re­leased Tues­day.

Even though bird flu has not found its way onto farms that raise chick­ens for meat, lower ex­ports mean plenty of chicken avail­able in the U.S., the agency said in its monthly re­port on the poul­try mar­ket.

“What this sit­u­a­tion has done is in­crease the amount of broiler prod­ucts on the do­mes­tic mar­ket, boost­ing cold stor­age hold­ings and re­sult­ing in plac­ing down­ward price pres­sure on a num­ber of broiler prod­ucts,” the USDA said.

At the end of April, 181 mil­lion pounds of leg quar­ters were in cold stor­age, 80 per­cent more than last year. Leg quar­ters are the largest chicken meat ex­port prod­uct.

May whole­sale prices in the North­east mar­ket for bulk leg quar­ters av­er­aged 34 cents per pound, 32 per­cent lower than a year ear­lier. Prices for drum­sticks were down 33 per­cent and bone­less/skin­less thigh meat was down 19 per­cent, the USDA said.

The bird flu cost Min­nesota, the lead­ing tur­key pro­ducer, 9 mil­lion birds. Egg farms in Iowa, the na­tion’s lead­ing egg pro­ducer, lost 25 mil­lion hens.

The fre­quency of new cases has slowed dra­mat­i­cally, with no new com­mer­cial barn cases in Min­nesota in 11 days. Iowa went six days with­out a new case un­til Tues­day, when Iowa agri­cul­ture of­fi­cials said a chicken farm with 1 mil­lion egg-lay­ers tested pos­i­tive.

The USDA low­ered its forecast for ta­ble egg pro­duc­tion this year to 6.9 bil­lion dozen, a 5.3 per­cent drop from 2014. Fewer eggs cre­ated a sup­ply short­age and higher prices. By late May, the price for a dozen Mid­west large eggs had soared 120 per­cent from their mid-April pre-bird flu prices to US$2.62, said Urner Barry, an in­dus­try an­a­lyst group. Prices be­gan fall­ing last week and were at US$2.22 a dozen on Tues­day. Breaker eggs — those used in pro­cessed food and by bak­ers for cakes and cook­ies — soared 273 per­cent at the peak and have fallen only slightly in the last week.

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