It’s strange that so few people are talking about this flu outbreak in chickens in the US. I don’t think it’s something we can ignore. The outbreak is sad for many reasons, including the birds’ suffering, the needed yet wasteful culling of flocks, and the human toll of the workers dealing with so much death plus the farmers seeing their cared for animals and their business killed.
We should expect a rise in egg prices, starting with liquid eggs and processed foods that use liquid eggs (including baked goods and ice cream, as the NY Times article states). I doubt in-shell egg prices are far behind. That’s bad news for people struggling to put food on the table. While there are many negatives here, I think the silver lining comes in two opportunities.
First, this is an opportunity to talk about the frailty of our food system. It doesn’t matter what type of farm you have, if an infected migratory bird shows up, your birds get sick. This issue spans all types of agriculture. What are farmers doing to protect their birds? How can the USDA and everyday consumers help?
Second, this is an opportunity to talk about egg alternatives. This issue spans many types of food; as any vegan could tell you, eggs are everywhere. There’s many foods that can replace eggs in home cooking and baking. Most processed food companies haven’t embraced alternatives in part because of cost. It’s just easier to get liquid eggs.
Now that liquid eggs are going to be more expensive for a while, it’s time for food scientists to figure out what can replace eggs in ice cream, bread, cookies, and other processed foods. Companies like Hampton Creek are developing egg substitute but that adds another layer of cost. Food companies may find that commercially produced egg alternatives work best, or they may be able to use a cheaper solution such as straight flax meal.
As a proponent of diverse food systems, I am excited about the potential for more use of egg substitutes. Since those substitutes are often made from less common crops like flax and cassava, there’s an opportunity for farmers to grow more complex crop rotations to meet this demand.