Not so Eggscellent USDA Regulations Could be at Fault for Egg Shortage

USDA protocol causes the death of millions of chickens prior to egg shortage.


Chickens eating bugs in a backyard farm in Kitsap County

In the past several months egg prices have increased at grocery stores across the country. This has been attributed to the avian flu causing a shortage in chickens, but a closer look shows USDA regulations could be at fault for these shortages.

Grocery stores throughout the United States are losing their egg suppliers and are forced to use brands that they have never seen before. 

This shortage is prevalent here in Silverdale, where stores and restaurants are paying more for their eggs and are struggling to keep their egg inventory adequate.

“There are a lot of shortages and we had no eggs in stock,” said Michael Figgins, an employee at the Silverdale Safeway. “We now have different brands and the price for each of our egg cases has gone up by at least two dollars.”

Worker stocks egg shelves in Kitsap County

This in turn affects shoppers that rely on eggs for their daily meals, and this shortage costs them more money and gives them unfamiliar eggs.

A customer at the same Safeway, Camren Shelton, shared his experience. 

“One day I went to the grocery store to get a specific brand of eggs that I usually purchase from this store, but they were completely empty,”  said Shelton. “So then I came back a couple days later and they were stocked back up on eggs but didn’t have the usual brand that I buy.”

Restaurants that require reliable egg distributors were also hurt by this supply chain disruption.

Marien Anderson, the General Manager of Bangor Base McDonalds said, “When I do my truck order for my store, the proposed amount of eggs is less than normal…The price of purchasing eggs per case has gone up. Now I have to order more to meet our expected demands, because the proposed amount is less than normal.”  

Anderson also expressed how if she couldn’t order more eggs to meet the demand because they don’t have the money, she would have to borrow from other stores such as the Poulsbo McDonalds and Silverdale McDonalds. 

The egg shortage is due to a lack of egg laying hens, and this has been attributed to the avian flu, causing chickens to no longer lay eggs. 

Kharissa Hamilton is the Livestock Coordinator for the Kitsap County Fair and owns Old Frontier Family Farm, along with her husband Greg Hamilton.

The avian flu is currently all over the country, being spread by wild waterfowl, mostly Canadian geese. This puts farms located near standing bodies of water at higher risk, said Kharissa Hamilton.

One of the chicken flocks at Old Frontier Family Farm wandering around their home.

The Hamilton’s farm currently houses around 100 chickens, and they have been hard at work keeping their chickens free of the avian flu. Kharissa said they only get wild waterfowl in the springtime, at which point they try to keep the chickens inside as much as possible. 

However their fear is not necessarily due to the flu itself, but more about what the Washington State Department of Agriculture will do to their farm if a chicken tests positive for the flu. 

Under USDA protocol, whether a farm has ten chickens, or ten thousand, if just one tests positive for the flu then every single bird gets euthanized.

“The biggest problem we have is the egg production in the Midwest. They killed hundreds of thousands of birds per day for months,” Greg said. “We’re talking millions and millions of egg production birds were killed six, seven months ago. And now we’re having an egg shortage. And everybody’s wondering why.”

These farms do get compensated for the loss of their birds, but a market minimum that is usually around $7 per bird. This does not account for the price of food that farmers paid and the time required to grow the birds, said Kharissa. 

However, after the loss of their chickens, farmers can’t simply buy fresh birds and start laying again. 

“To get a chicken back to an egg laying state it’s approximately 10 months. They [USDA] do a four month quarantine on your farm as well. So you’re talking close to a year and a quarter before you have another egg,” said Greg.

Greg also said that in some cases, tests have proven that a flock had the flu, but recovered and built immunities. However, under the strict USDA regulations, the birds are still euthanized.

The birds that are resilient to the disease are being euthanized, leaving only the birds with zero tolerance to the flu to survive.

This is not the first time avian flu has come across the United States. Normally it will come and go in waves that we only deal with for short times, and are relatively easy to control. 

Greg thinks a potential reason for the flu being so strong this year is our strange spring and fall that could have caused the migratory birds to alter their paths and linger around longer, being near chickens, and spreading sickness to them.

“It [the avian flu] comes in cycles. And this is the first time that this cycle has stayed. You can attribute that quite a bit to whether we had the really mild spring,” explained Greg. “Migratory birds stayed here longer and they didn’t travel on.”

This flu is not unique to America, it was first discovered in Europe, and other countries have different ways of dealing with the sickness that don’t require mass euthanization. 

“In the UK, they’ve been fighting with it for years now. Their solution has been requiring that birds be inside under cover during the migration [of wild birds]. Then they allow them to go back out in winter and early spring,” explained Greg. 

Another contributing factor for the egg shortage is on January 30th, 2023 the third largest egg factory in the US burned down. 

The egg farm and plant was located in Hillandale Farms in Bozrah, Connecticut. The fire caused an estimated 100,000 chicken deaths. The staff and emergency responders were able to contain the fire and prevent it spreading to other buildings.

The Hamiltons have good news though; local farms are currently selling eggs for their regular price. 

The Old Frontier Farm is not yet selling eggs, but local farms are selling for the same price as before the egg shortage. The Hamiltons plan to have enough eggs for selling in the next couple of weeks. 

The Old Frontier Family Farm egg selling stand waiting to start selling eggs.

As for how these farms sell eggs, the Hamiltons rely on an honors system. They set up a small stand with eggs with a box for money. Anyone can come up and either drop cash in the box or Venmo the link posted next to it, and grab the appropriate amount of eggs. 

According to the Hamiltons, in order for the United States to handle the avian flu efficiently and not cause another egg shortage in the future is for an update in the USDA protocol and allow for less fatal treatments to the flu, as seen in other countries who also deal with the flu.