Chicken strips
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Consumers Brace for a Chicken Shortage in the U.S. Amid Bird Flu Outbreak

Mohit Oberoi, CFA - Author
By

Apr. 29 2022, Published 8:35 a.m. ET

For more than two years, U.S. consumers have been battling food product shortages, which have been accompanied by a steep rise in food prices. Reports of meat shortages have been common over the last year. Some chicken items, especially chicken wings, were particularly hard to find around the Super Bowl in 2021.

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Fast forward to April 2022 and there are concerns about a severe shortage of chicken and eggs. The fears are driven by the rise in bird flu cases. Will bird flu cause a chicken shortage in the U.S. in 2022?

The U.S. chicken supply chain has struggled since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

To get some perspective, like most other food products, the U.S. chicken supply chain was also broken amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While the demand was strong, supplies struggled to keep pace. We can blame the usual suspects for the shortage like lockdowns, labor issues, and the availability of truck drivers.

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Also, U.S. chicken exports gained steam in 2021. According to the USDA, an estimated 17.1 percent of the domestic production was exported in the year, which was the highest percentage since 2014.

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Is there a chicken and egg shortage in the U.S. in 2022?

Around Easter, there were reports of shortages of eggs and chicken. Seasonal shortages have become common and during Thanksgiving in 2021, turkeys were hard to find in certain sizes.

chicken egg shortage
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The bird flu outbreak has complicated the chicken supply chain.

A bird flu outbreak in several U.S. states has hit the chicken supply chain. According to the USDA, “An ongoing outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza could contribute to poultry and egg price increases through decreased supply.” It estimates that U.S. poultry prices could rise by 7.5 percent–8.5 percent in 2022, while egg prices would rise by 6 percent–7 percent.

The expected rise in chicken prices is the highest among food categories and only fats and oil prices are expected to rise higher. The Russia-Ukraine war has led to a steep rise in edible oil prices. Together, Russia and Ukraine account for over three-quarters of the total sunflower oil exports.

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How many birds have been infected with the flu in 2022?

According to the APHIS (Animal and Plant Inception Service), as of April 28, there have been 247 confirmed flocks of which 160 are commercial and 87 are backyard flocks. A total of 35.52 million birds have been impacted across 29 states. In February 1.49 million birds were infected and the figure rose to 20.91 million in March. So far, 13.11 million birds have been reported to be infected in April.

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The APHIS thinks that cases of avian influenza will be detected in other states also as the virus spreads throughout the spring. The first case of bird flu in a human has also been detected in Colorado. Generally, the bird flu isn't transmitted to humans.

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The bird flu outbreak has nuanced the outlook for U.S. chicken prices and supply. While the supply has been curtailed since the infected birds are “depopulated,” the USDA thinks that the outbreak might have an impact on demand for U.S. poultry abroad. The agency will monitor how the outbreak impacts poultry prices.

Is there a chicken shortage in 2022?

Several Americans have found chicken shelves at supermarkets empty over the last month. There appears a shortage of some chicken products even on e-commerce platforms like Amazon. While some see a broader conspiracy behind the food product shortages in the U.S., in chicken’s case it has been the supply chain problems and low stock of frozen meat products. The bird flu outbreak has only made things worse.

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