Egg prices have more than tripled in some states in the past year. Here’s why.

Egg prices have more than tripled in some states in the past year.  Here’s why.

the rising egg prices in the USA puts a strain on household budgets. According to data from the US Department of Agriculture, in recent years Americans have increased the number of eggs they eat while reducing their intake of beef and venison.

Egg consumption has increased in part because more families are eating eggs as a primary protein substitute, Los Angeles Times reporter Sonja Sharp told CBS News. “Each of us eats about as many eggs as a hen can lay in a year,” she said.

As demand for eggs has increased, production in the US has continued due to the Avian or “bird” flu epidemic. Nearly 58 million birds had been infected with avian flu as of Jan. 6, the USDA said, making it the deadliest outbreak in U.S. history. Infected birds must be slaughtered, causing egg supplies to fall and prices to rise.

Families and restaurants are now paying increased prices for eggs as the outbreak hits 47 states.

In California, for example, data shows that the average price for a dozen eggs hit $7.37 last week, compared to $2.35 a year ago. The nationwide average wholesale price for eggs per dozen is now $3.30, the USDA said last week. The average price of a dozen eggs per U.S. city rose to a record $3.58 in November, according to the latest available data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Sharp said prices are unlikely to fall again until new chickens are born free of the infection and reach oviposition age. More than 300 flocks of poultry on farms were affected by the outbreak as of last Friday, according to USDA data.

In New York, grocery store owner Jose Filipe said rising egg prices have prompted many shoppers to change their spending habits.

“I’ve seen customers shift from buying organic eggs to more conventional eggs, now by the half-dozen. Prices have quadrupled in about six or seven months,” he said said Jenna DeAngelis of CBS New York recently.

What is bird flu?

Avian influenza is transmitted by free-flying waterfowl such as ducks, geese and shorebirds and infects chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese and guinea fowl. In another major recent epidemic, the disease killed more than 50 million chickens and turkeys in 2014 and 2015 and caused $3.3 billion in economic losses, the USDA estimates. The agency is now researching a possible vaccine against bird flu.

Fortunately, the public health risk associated with bird flu remains low, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, as a general food safety rule, it’s recommended to cook poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F.

The cost of processed eggs – used in liquid or powdered form in convenience products such as salad dressings, cake mixes and chips – has also risen, adding to inflationary pressures.

The consumer price index – a closely watched indicator of inflation – up 7.1% in December from the previous year. Falling prices for energy, raw materials and used cars are offsetting increases in food and shelter.

Despite the cost increases, however, eggs remain relatively cheap compared to other proteins like chicken or beef, with a pound of chicken breast averaging $4.42 in November and a pound of ground beef averaging $4.85, according to government data.

But if egg prices stay high, Chicago resident Kelly Fischer said she’ll start thinking more seriously about building a backyard chicken coop because everyone in her family eats eggs.

“We (with neighbors) are thinking about building a chicken coop behind our houses so I’m hoping at some point not to buy them and have my own eggs and I think cost is a factor,” said the 46-year-old Public school teachers shopping at HarvesTime Foods on the north side of town. “For me, it’s more the environmental impact and trying to shop locally.”

—The Associated Press contributed to this report

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