Thursday, September 21, 2023

U.S. egg producers rise above the challenges, set priorities

By Chad Gregory United Egg Producers

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Despite all its challenges, this year has been pivotal for U.S. egg producers and the poultry industry. Along with continued findings of highly pathogenic avian influenza, egg farmers have dealt with rising inflation and economic disruption, labor shortages, labeling of imitation eggs and transitions to cage-free production.

As we move into 2023, many of these issues are likely to remain. And while it hasn’t been easy for our farmers, they’ve still maintained a firm focus on producing safe, nutritious, high-quality eggs throughout the year.

Here’s a closer look at what’s happened in 2022 and what we can expect for the new year.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

HPAI is a destructive avian disease that infects wild birds and domestic poultry and spreads quickly in flocks. This year, avian influenza has affected poultry farms, and as of mid-November, more than 50 million birds, including commercial and backyard poultry flocks, were infected across 46 states.

Many flocks have been depopulated to contain the spread, and this has been devastating to farmers who work tirelessly to protect their birds from disease. In response, heightened biosecurity measures have been put into place to better protect these flocks. This includes enforcing protective gear and clean equipment for workers and limiting access to flocks through human contact and contact with wild birds.

Currently, egg farmers are working with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), state veterinarians and local authorities to prevent additional spread of the disease. Since flocks must be culled once HPAI is detected, APHIS has lessened the burden this has on farmers by making payments to partially offset the loss of income.

The reality is that bird flu still threatens America’s egg farmers, no matter how many precautions are implemented, due to the ongoing threat of migratory birds and waterfowl. While there has been some discussion of a HPAI vaccine, UEP members have not yet taken a position on the topic, which requires broad stakeholder input, especially as it relates to the complexities around the science and the potential trade implications of HPAI vaccines.

Transition to cage-free production

This year, the topic of cage-free production has become increasingly important. The move away from conventional cage production has been initiated by food service chains and manufacturers, retail grocery stores, and individual states across the U.S. States that have legislation mandating eggs be produced in cage-free environments include Massachusetts, Nevada, California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Michigan and Rhode Island. While many of these state laws provide farmers a few years to comply with these new standards, California and Massachusetts laws took effect in 2022.

Going into the new year, the USDA predicts that 67.7 percent of egg-laying flocks will need to be cage-free to meet demand and projected transitions. This is based on legislation and customer commitments to purchasing these types of eggs.

Currently, only 34.1 percent of flocks are cage-free, and the overall cost of making these transitions is estimated to be more than $11 billion.

The cage-free dilemma persists as customer and consumer preferences are reflected in the buying behavior for cage-free eggs, and in some areas, there is a surplus of these types of eggs. However, this could change as we move into 2023.

These transitions will not be easy and require constant collaboration between egg producers and customers. UEP supports all types of hen housing, and our farmer-members will comply with any new regulations put into place.

Inflation impacts

Like all sectors, U.S. egg farmers are not immune from inflationary impacts, which have been exacerbated by the volatile economy. Many inputs to egg production, including feed, energy, fuel and labor costs, have also increased significantly. By some estimates, feed costs alone have increased by 12 to 15 percent.

Egg farmers are resilient and have worked tirelessly to ensure a stable supply of affordable, high-quality eggs. Temporary increases in egg prices reflect many factors beyond the farmers’ control, yet eggs remain a nutritious and low-cost protein for Americans.

Truthful labeling for plant-based egg imitators

For those who do not wish to consume eggs, products are available that imitate eggs, which are usually plant-based egg alternatives. But, in some situations, these products can be incorrectly labeled with the word “egg,” although eggs are not used in the product. These imitation eggs do not have the same vitamins and nutrients as eggs and should not be labeled as such.

Mislabeling can confuse consumers as they might not be sure if the product contains real eggs. This year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expressed its intent to develop guidance for plant-based foods that are meant to imitate animal-based foods, especially as it relates to labeling these products.

UEP is asking FDA to analyze consumer habits to see if this could provide insight into whether the labeling of imitation products is misleading.

Agricultural labor issues

Critical labor shortages continue to have adverse impacts on egg farms and jeopardize the future success of the agricultural sector along with the vitality of rural economies, which rely heavily upon agriculture. And while labor issues were a problem for our industry before COVID-19, it has only been exacerbated by the pandemic as there are now fewer people in the labor force.

Producers are experiencing severe difficulties in hiring and retaining workers, continued supply-chain problems, and a lack of updates to federal policy on agricultural labor.

UEP urges Congress to revise the H-2A guest worker program to allow year-round work, addressing the needs of non-seasonal agricultural sectors like eggs.

Egg production continues to be an integral part of the U.S. economy, despite the labor challenges. In a report published in October 2022, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association research found that the egg industry has provided 112,723 jobs, $1.8 billion in government revenue, $6.9 billion in wages, and $33.7 billion in economic activity.

The egg and poultry industry has positively impacted not only the individual communities where farms operate, but also across the nation.

Moving forward

Egg producers are exceptional collaborators who continually work together to tackle these evolving issues. Although the egg industry has faced challenges in 2022, eggs are still in more than 90 percent of consumer households — and UEP’s farmer-members will continue to offer choices to consumers shopping for eggs.

And while this volatility may persist into 2023, egg farmers will continue to navigate everything from HPAI to labor and inflation as a united industry while still producing high-quality, affordable protein for people across the nation.


Chad Gregory is president and CEO of the United Egg Producers headquartered in Johns Creek, Ga. UEP is a cooperative of U.S egg farmers who represent more than 90 percent of U.S. egg production. UEP collaboratively works to address legislative, regulatory and advocacy issues impacting the industry through active farmer-member leadership, a unified voice and partnership across the agriculture community. For more information, visit

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