Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

Egg prices hatch conspiracy theories about chicken feed

- By Josh Kelety

Social media users claim to have found a new culprit for sky-high egg prices: chicken feed.

The theory gained steam on Facebook, TikTok and Twitter in recent weeks, with some users reporting that their hens stopped laying eggs and speculatin­g that common chicken feed products were the cause. Some went a step further to suggest that feed producers had intentiona­lly made their products deficient to stop backyard egg production, forcing people to buy eggs at inflated prices.

“One of the largest egg producers in the country cut a deal with one of the largest feed producers in the country to change their feed formula so it no longer contains enough protein and minerals for your chickens to produce eggs,” one Facebook user wrote in a post shared more than 2,000 times. “They are now price gouging eggs to make bank.”

But poultry experts say there’s no evidence for such claims. Here’s a closer look at the facts.

Claim: Chicken feed companies have altered their products to stop backyard hens from laying eggs and drive up demand for commercial eggs.

The facts: U.S. egg prices in grocery stores more than doubled over the past year due to an outbreak of bird flu, combined with increasing labor and supply costs.

Some backyard chicken owners may have separately found their chickens underperfo­rming, but experts say the issues are unrelated. While feed quality can affect hens’ egg-laying abilities, state agricultur­al officials told The Associated Press they have not heard of any widespread issues with feed affecting egg production, and several major feed suppliers say they haven’t changed their formulas.

Experts say there are far more mundane explanatio­ns for the poultry’s meager production.

“Is there a broad conspiracy? No, there’s not a broad conspiracy,” said Todd Applegate, a professor in poultry science at the University of Georgia. “Beyond feed, there are a lot, probably even more so, things from the management and from the bird’s environmen­t that creates different things that would cause her to either go out of production or lower her production.”

More than 43 million of the 58 million birds slaughtere­d over the past year to control the bird flu virus have been egg-laying chickens, The Associated Press has reported.

“Because of high path avian influenza, we’ve had to depopulate millions of laying hens. And when you take that many chickens out of production, there’s fewer eggs,” said Ken Anderson, a poultry industry specialist at North Carolina State University. “And when there’s fewer eggs, the price goes up.”

Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and a farmer-led advocacy group have called for an investigat­ion into potential egg price-gouging by producers.

But there is no evidence that altered chicken feed is driving steep egg prices.

Agricultur­al officials in multiple states, including North Carolina and Georgia, said they have received no reports of widespread problems.

“Our members have not really heard any exact reports of any correlatio­n between the feed and egg production,” said Austin Therrell, executive director of the Associatio­n of American Feed Control Officials, a group of local, state and federal agencies responsibl­e for regulating animal feeds.

Other factors could explain the individual reports of low backyard egg yields, experts say.

Limited daylight hours in the winter can reduce or stop hens’ egg production, as can cold weather, said Applegate. Improperly stored feed can become compromise­d and affect egg production, too.

“Backyard flock producers don’t necessaril­y follow lighting programs to support peak egg production,” Anderson said. “A lot of backyard flock people utilize natural daylight.”

 ?? PATRICK T. FALLON/GETTY-AFP ?? Egg prices in U.S. grocery stores have more than doubled in the past year due to a bird flu outbreak combined with higher costs for labor and supplies.
PATRICK T. FALLON/GETTY-AFP Egg prices in U.S. grocery stores have more than doubled in the past year due to a bird flu outbreak combined with higher costs for labor and supplies.

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