Bird flu, which has forced the American poultry industry to cull upwards of 30 million birds across at least 14 states this year, is poised to cause major egg shortages that could impact major companies like McDonald’s, Unilever, and General Mills, among others.
An estimated 87 percent of the birds affected by H5N2 are egg-laying hens, which will undoubtedly affect the industry’s egg production over the next several months, especially if the disease continues to spread.
In mid-May, the disease reached Nebraska for the first time, affecting 1.7 million birds. Days earlier, H5N2 was confirmed yet again in the neighboring state of Iowa, affecting 4 million egg-laying chickens. Iowa, which has been the most affected by the disease, has lost an estimated 25 million birds.
Although most food companies are not expected to be affected by potential shortages, larger corporations like McDonald’s are looking for alternate suppliers.
“One of our suppliers has been directly impacted by avian influenza despite their taking appropriate biosecurity precautions,” Lisa McComb, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s, wrote in an email to The New York Times. “We proactively developed contingent supply plans, and we do not anticipate an impact to our ability to supply eggs to our restaurants and serve our customers.”
Other companies are turning to egg substitutes for the time being, including General Mills, which ordered tens of thousands of pounds of powdered egg substitute from Hampton Creek, for a variety of processed items.
“Eight companies called today to see if we could do anything for them,” Josh Tetrick, chief executive at Hampton Creek, told the Times. “Everyone is worried about a shortage of eggs.”