WASHINGTON — The hot topic of concern for consumers, and the poultry industry, continues to be the drastic increase in the price of table eggs.
Recent numbers from the government show that the pressure of inflation will probably keep consumer prices high into this year. It was reported that egg prices rose 8.5 percent in January and have seen a 70 percent jump during the past year. The main culprits for the increase being highly pathogenic avian influenza and the increased costs for feed.
The National Chicken Council, in an effort to help provide more product and ease prices, has sent a petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking to reverse or modify policy that caused the industry to destroy eggs that could be used in the table egg supply.
“In light of the pressure the current HPAI outbreak is putting on the nation’s egg supply, FDA should revisit the use of safe, affordable and nutritious surplus eggs available to use by egg breakers and their customers,” Dr. Ashley Peterson, NCC’s senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, said in the petition. “Already faced with record egg prices, consumers might be hit even harder in their wallets as we head into the Easter season unless FDA provides us with a pathway to put these eggs to good use.”
At issue, the NCC explains, is when broiler hatcheries have more eggs than may be needed for hatch, known as surplus hatching eggs, before new rules implanted in 2009, the producers were able to sell these eggs to egg processors to be used in pasteurized egg products.
These surplus eggs were kept at 65 degrees F before being placed in incubation, which utilized research that showed this to be an ideal temperature prior to incubation. But, NCC notes, that the 2009 FDA ruling was looking at table eggs and said that all eggs that were to be used at breaking facilities for pasteurization must be kept at 45 degrees F within 36 hours of lay. After this ruling, broiler producers stopped selling their surplus hatch eggs to processors and they were often destroyed or rendered.
“FDA never suggested these surplus broiler eggs were unsafe or that pasteurization was ineffective,” NCC says. “The FDA rule was focused on table eggs, which are raw products and present a very different risk profile than pasteurized surplus broiler eggs. In fact, under FDA’s rule, eggs that fail to meet certain requirements can be sent to egg breakers to be pasteurized, which is exactly what NCC is asking for now. NCC objected to FDA’s rule when it was implemented on this and related grounds.”
Processing eggs, which takes place at USDA-inspected facilities, is done under oversight of federal inspectors, the council adds. The frozen, liquid and dried egg products are used by foodservice companies in such things as bread, sauces, cake and pancake mixes, pasta, salad dressings, ice cream, and more.
“With the recent risk assessment affirming their safety, we request FDA exercise its enforcement discretion to allow surplus broiler eggs to be sent for breaking without needing to meet the current refrigeration requirements,” NCC’s petition states.
The effect of the HPAI outbreak of 2022, a majority of it having impact on the nation’s egg-laying flock, has been extremely detrimental to keeping supply needs met.
“HPAI virus strains are extremely infectious, often fatal to chickens, and can spread rapidly from flock to flock,” NCC’s petition added. “Commercial flocks testing positive for HPAI are immediately depopulated as a well-recognized risk control measure. As of Feb. 8, 2023, there have been 755 HPAI detections in commercial turkeys, layers, broilers, pullets, ducks, game birds and backyard flocks. These detections represent over 58 million birds with the majority being commercial egg laying flocks.”
With this decrease in available supply, the result has been the increases seen in prices.
“These price spikes and supply disruptions are putting tremendous strain on the shell and egg products industries, and the impact has already begun to trickle down and impose hardships on restaurants, food manufacturers and consumers,” NCC noted.
This request to FDA, if realized, would release approximately 400 million surplus eggs into the egg breaking supply annually.
“Despite sharp inflation and shocks to the egg supply, hundreds of millions of excess eggs are being wasted when they could be sold safely in the breaking market,” the petition added. “Surplus hatching eggs should be made available for sale to egg breakers who can pasteurize them under FSIS (USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service) jurisdiction into safe and wholesome egg products.
“This would reduce input costs for food made with egg products and alleviate prices for both table eggs and egg products.”