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Egg Week

03/23/2023

USDA Weekly Egg Price and Inventory Report, March 22nd 2023.

 

Market Overview

  • The average wholesale unit revenue values for Midwest Extra-large and Large sizes were higher this week by 12.7 percent on average, representing a continuation of the upward move for four weeks after seven previous consecutive weeks of decline. Mediums were up 6.8 percent with a larger gap from Large and indicating restoration in the balance between supply and demand in this size with many pullets commencing production. This past week shell egg inventory was up 5.7 percent inconsistent with increased seasonal demand and presumably lower shelf prices. Retail price is increasing but will be moderated by restoration of the national flock with a lagging rate. Over the coming three weeks the volume of retail purchases will be influenced by seasonal pre-Easter demand. If chains reduce margins consistent with prevailing wholesale prices, higher demand can be anticipated. Eggs are still competitive in price against the comparable costs for other protein foods. Availability and hence prices have been influenced by depletion of close to 44 million hens in 22 large complexes in eleven states extending from the last week in February through mid-December 2022 with the producing flock down on average by 20 million hens during 2022 and continuing into 2023 compared with the pre-HPAI complement.
  • Total industry inventory was higher by 4.4 percent overall this past week to 1.62 million cases with a concurrent 1.3 percent decrease in breaking stock attributed to diversion and the combination of food service and industrial demand. Wholesale unit prices during early 2023 although on a downward trajectory during January and early February have trended upwards and contrast favorably with the two previous years that were characterized by low ex-plant unit revenue.
  • It is now apparent that the inventory held by chains and other significant distributors may be more important over the short term to establishing wholesale price than the USDA regional inventory figures published weekly. This is probably the reason for the 8.7 percent swing in total inventory over two weeks with only a small change in the size of the national flock.
  • Due to the depletion of flocks as a result of HPAI, comparable high unit revenue will now be a reality through the remainder of March and through April 2023. Sporadic outbreaks of HPAI are likely given the seasonal Spring migration of waterfowl. The number and extent of outbreaks cannot be assessed until more information is available concerning the molecular and field epidemiology relating to cases. The USDA has yet to identify modes of transmission for the 2022 epornitic including airborne spread. There have been no case-control studies released on possible deficiencies in biosecurity on affected complexes that presumably demonstrated specific risk factors. APHIS has been remiss in evaluating available data and providing timely practical guidance on prevention as evidenced by releasing a backdated report during the first week of March that was devoid of recommendations to prevent HPAI infection in flocks.
  • The current relationship between producers and chain buyers based on a single price discovery system constitutes an impediment to a free market. The benchmark price amplifies both downward and upward swings as evidenced over the past six months. The benchmark possibly functions to the detriment of the industry over the long term. A CME quotation based on Midwest Large, reflecting demand relative to supply would be more equitable. If feed cost is determined by CME ingredient prices then generic shell eggs should be subject to a Midwest Large quotation.
  • According to the USDA the U.S. flock in production was down 0.4 percent or 1.2 million hens to 299.1 million hens during the week ending March 22nd. The flock in production includes about 3.0 million molted hens that resumed lay during the past week plus 4.0 million pullets attaining production.
  • The ex-farm price for breaking stock was up 8.5 percent this past week to 292.5 cents per dozen.Checks delivered to Midwest plants were up 17.2 percent to 279.0 cents per dozen. Prices for breaking stock will remain high over the period of recovery from HPAI until replacement flocks reach maturity.

 

The Week in Review

Prices

According to the USDA Egg Market News Reports released on March 20th the Midwest wholesale price (rounded to one cent) for Extra-large was up 12.6 percent to $3.30 per dozen. Large size was up 12.7 percent to $3.28 per dozen; the Medium price was up 6.8 percent to $2.90 per dozen as delivered to DCs. Prices should be compared to the USDA benchmark average 6-Region blended nest-run cost of 85.3 cents per dozen in February 2023. This excludes provisions for packing, packaging materials and transport, amounting to 50 cents per dozen in mid-2022, according to the EIC but now probably closer to 55 cents per dozen. The progression of prices during 2023 to date is depicted in the USDA chart reflecting three years of data, updated weekly.

 The March 20th 2023 edition of the USDA Egg Market News Report documented a USDA Combined Region value rounded to the nearest cent, of $3.01 per dozen delivered to warehouses for the week ending March 14th 2023. This average price lags current Midwest weekly values by one week. The USDA Combined range for Large in the Midwest was $2.91 per dozen. At the high end of the range, the price in the South Central region attained $3.11 per dozen. The USDA Combined Price last week was approximately $1.80 above the 3-year average. This past week Midwest Large was approximately $1.85 above the corresponding week in 2022.

 

Flock Size 

The USDA adjusted the estimate of flock size to reflect depopulation of more than 31.1 million hens through June 6th as a result of the spring wave of HPAI with subsequent depopulation of approximately 14 million additional hens in Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, Oregon and South Dakota in the fall wave by late-December. According to the USDA the number of producing hens reflecting March 22nd (rounded to 0.1 million) was down 1.2 million (0.4 percent) to 299.1 million. The total U.S. flock includes about 3.0 million molted hens due to come back into production with approximately 4.0 million new pullets reaching maturity each week based on USDA chick hatch data. The increase is offset by routine flock depletion in addition to past losses during 2022 due to the HPAI epornitic. Based on inventory level and prices the hen population producing eggs should now be in mild undersupply relative to consumer demand. Industrial and food service off-take although increasing, has not reverted to pre-COVID levels. Prices will continue to fluctuate, trending mildly upward during the remainder of March and into April 2023. Prices of shell eggs and products will also depend on any future incident outbreaks of HPAI offset by the contribution of new pullets and of molted hens to supply.

 

According to the USDA the total U.S. egg-flock on March 22nd was down 1.2 million hens (0.4 percent) to 303.9 million including second-cycle birds and those in molt. Any difference between hens in production and total hens is an approximate figure but denoting that many molted hens have or will resume production to meet pre-Easter demand. At present there are now at least 20 million fewer hens in both the total and producing flocks with the difference equivalent to about six percent of the pre-HPAI national flock of 325 million hens.

 

INVENTORY LEVELS

Cold storage stocks of frozen products in selected centers on March 21st 2023 amounted to 2.407 million pounds (1,094 metric tons) of frozen egg products, up 1.7 percent from the inventory of 2.366 million lbs. on March 1st 2023. The monthly USDA Cold Storage Report below quantifies a reduction in the actual total stock level.

 

The most recent monthly USDA Cold Storage Report released on February 24th 2023 documented a total stock of 28.7 million pounds (13,055 metric tons) of frozen egg products on January 31st 2023. This quantity was up 10.1 percent from the January 31st 2022 value of 26.1 million pounds. January 31st 2023 frozen egg inventory was up 18.5 percent from the previous month ending December 31st 2022 despite depletion of 44 million hens over the year. Compared to January 31st 2022 yolks were up 3.7 percent to 872 million lbs. on January 31st 2023.

 

A total of 86.7 percent of combined inventory (24.9 million lbs.) comprised the categories of “Whole and Mixed” (45.0 percent) and “Unclassified” (41.7 percent). The lack of specificity in classification requires a more diligent approach to enumerating and reporting inventory by the USDA

 

Shell Inventory

The USDA reported that the national stock of generic shell eggs effective March 20th 2023 was up 5.7 percent reversing the trend of the previous week. The relative movement of stock over the previous week suggests decreased consumer demand despite the upward price trajectory. Combined with breaking stock, the total inventory of shell eggs in the industry is now at 1.62 million cases (1.55 million last week and 68,300 cases higher). The U.S. population of laying hens at this time is influenced by the number of hens previously culled due to HPAI, and includes the population unaffected by HPAI, flocks retained after molting (with an anticipated increase in this category depending on available housing capacity) and started pullets from chick placements in October 2022. Going forward, older hens will assume a larger proportion of the national flock as more flocks are molted especially as many “at risk” pullet flocks were depleted due to HPAI.

 

All six USDA Regions reported lower stock levels this past week. The regions are listed in descending order of stock: -

  • The Midwest Region was up 4.0 percent compared to the previous week to 468,700 cases.
  • The Southeast Region was up 6.1 percent to 254,400 cases
  • The South Central Region was up 8.4 percent to 241,600 cases
  • The Northeast Region was up 2.2 percent to 175,600 cases.
  • The Southwest Region was up 10.3 percent to 136,500 cases
  • The Northwest Region was up 7.5 percent to 58,800 cases

 

The total USDA six-area stock of commodity eggs comprised 1,622,600 cases, up 4.4 percent, of which 82.3 percent were shell eggs (81.2 percent last week denoting continued demand relative to previous years). The inventory of breaking stock was down 1.3 percent to 287,800 cases. Shell egg inventory was up 5.7 percent attaining 1,335,600 cases. The lower level of breaking stock over the past week is attributed to diversion to the shell egg market and possibly higher demand for liquids by industry, food service and consumers. The average price for Midwest checks and breaking stock combined was 86.8 percent of the average value of Midwest Extra-large and Large shell eggs (last week 87.1 percent) consistent with relatively higher prices for shell eggs despite continued diversion of uncommitted eggs and less in-line breaking stock consigned to the shell market. The differential can be compared to 80.0 percent in April 2022 reflecting the initial period of high demand for both shell eggs and breaking stock after the onset of HPAI. This past week the wholesale Midwest Extra-large and Large shell egg prices were higher by an average of 12.7 percent compared to breaking stock and checks combined that were up by 12.9 percent on average from the previous week. This demonstrates the respective demands for shell eggs and egg products. There is interconnectivity of the packing and breaking segments of the egg industry under circumstances of extreme disturbances in either supply (HPAI in 2022) or demand (COVID in 2020). The price for breaking stock and for checks is influenced by the relative demand for generic shell eggs and contract obligations with breakers.

 

On March 20th 2023 the inventory of other than generic eggs amounting to 394,300 cases (up 2.3 percent from last week at 385,300 cases) among three categories (with the previous week in parentheses) comprised:-

  • Specialty category, up 5.1 percent to 39,000 cases. (Was down 10.1% to 37,100 cases)
  • Certified Organic, down 0.7 percent to 79,700 cases. (Was up 4.3 percent to 80,300 cases)
  • Cage-Free category, up 2.8 percent to 275,600 cases. (Was down 7.5% to 268,100 cases)

 

Demand for cage-free product will not increase materially while generic eggs from caged flocks and some surplus down-classified cage-free eggs are on the shelf at $2.00 to $2.50 per dozen during normal supply conditions over the long term. This is supported by the findings of the comprehensive review relating to the transition from cages to alternative systems.* Existing and proposed individual state legislation mandating sale of only cage-free eggs will support most of the anticipated transition from cages but total re-housing will not be completed by the beginning of 2025, less than 21 months away and ultimately never. The constitutional status of Proposition #12 was considered in oral arguments presented to SCOTUS on October 11th with specific reference to the Dormant Commerce Clause relating to interstate trade. Many chains are reneging on or extending their time commitments to achieve an acceptable transition to cage-free eggs. With the current proportion of non-caged flocks, cage-free eggs are surplus to demand in some areas and are becoming a commodity in many markets subjected to the same price pressures as generic eggs from caged hens. Growth in demand for organic product has been static for months.

 

Long-term demand for cage-free eggs is influenced by the relative shelf prices of the category in comparison with generic white-shelled eggs from caged flocks. At the other end of the price range, consumers will purchase less-expensive brown cage-free product over organic eggs when there is a differential in price greater than about $1.20 per dozen under normal balance between supply and demand. Similarly, consumers will traditionally purchase white-shelled generic eggs in preference to brown-shelled cage-free with a differential of over $1.20 per dozen.

*Caputo,V. et al The Transition to Cage-Free Eggs. February 2023

 

A comprehensive structured market research project on cage-free eggs has provided an indication of consumer willingness to pay for this attribute. The industry requires a study on other aspects including shell color, GM status and nutritional enrichment. Above all agricultural economists should evaluate the impact of disruption in supply and demand arising from large-scale depopulation following HPAI in 2015 and the ongoing 2022-2023 HPAI epornitic.

 

RELATIVE PRICES OF SHELL-EGG CATEGORIES

USDA-AMS posted the following national shell egg prices as available, for March 17th 2023 in the Egg Markets Overview report for dozen cartons with comparable prices in parentheses for the previous week: -

Retail

Large, in cartons generic white: $2.52 down 2.7 percent ($2.59)

Large, in cartons cage-free brown: $3.83 down 23.2 percent ($4.98)

Large, California in Cartons: $3.70 down 3.9 percent ($3.85)

 

Wholesale

National loose, (FOB dock): $3.05 up 8.1 percent ($2.82)

NYC in cartons to retailer: $3.47 up 10.1 percent ($3.15)

Midwest in cartons to warehouse: $2.92 up 10.6 percent ($2.64)

 

RELATIVE ADVERTISED PRICES OF SHELL-EGG CATEGORIES

USDA Certified Organic, Brown, Large: (none) ($7.99)*

Cage-Free Brown, Large: $4.98 ($3.99)

Omega-3 Enriched Specialty, White, Large: $3.99 ($3.99)

Generic White, Large Grade AA $2.52* ($2.28)

Generic White, Large Grade A (Feature price) $2.52* ($2.59)

* Based on a small sample with few advertised promotions

 

The advertised price this week for Large white grade A was $2.52 per dozen, up $0.24 per dozen or 10.5 percent from the previous week. Lower shelf prices will increase demand for generic categories given availability and higher advertised shelf prices for specialty and cage-free brown eggs. Current supply was probably higher than demand this past week as independent producers continue to divert more shell eggs from breaking. Large integrated companies and packers continue delivering to DCs and stores to replenish inventory.

 

For the current week the USDA benchmark-advertised retail price of brown cage-free was $3.83 per dozen, down $1.15 or 23.1 percent. Certified organic was not featured. Last week USDA posted an advertised price of $7.99 per dozen for this category. Large week-to-week fluctuations can be expected in the stock of specialty and organic eggs based on the small base of these categories. 

 

Retail demand will continue to be supported by home cooking and baking and reinforced by seasonal dining out as COVID is now almost ignored. Eggs and product purchases will be limited among some demographics by their disposable incomes and inflation.

 

There was insufficient USDA data on shelf prices this week to calculate retail margins. Demand will increase as chains pass on any reduction in wholesale price for generic eggs.

 

The inability of the USDA to consistently post retail and promotional prices and the evident disparity between their weekly data and actual shelf prices suggests deficiencies in their systems of price discovery that should be addressed.

 

Cage-free comprised 36.4 percent of promotions compared with 17.7 percent last week despite with high inventory in this category. Omega-3 enriched comprised 10.1 percent of features compared to 11.5 percent last week. The remainder of features comprised 53.5 percent generics divided between 45.4 percent for Large and 8.1 percent for Medium. This confirms that retailers promote generic categories if available in excess of demand and to offer loss leaders with high shelf prices.

 

USDA Cage-Free Data

According to the latest monthly USDA Cage-free Hen Report released on March 1st 2023, the number of certified organic hens during February 2023 was down 4.0 percent from January 2023 to 16.8 million.

 

The USDA reported the cage-free (non-organic) flock in February 2023 to be 4.9 percent higher than in January 2022 to 98.2 million

According to the USDA the population of hens producing cage-free and certified organic eggs in February 2023 comprised: -

Total U.S. flock held for USDA Certified Organic production = 16.8 million (18.0 million in Q4 2022).

Total U.S. flock held for cage-free production = 98.2 million (88.5 million in Q4 2022).

Total U.S. non-caged flock =115.0 million (106.5 million in Q4 2022).

 

This total value represents 35.5 percent (last month 33.1 percent) of a nominal 324 million total U.S. flock pre-HPAI (but 37.7 percent of the national flock after HPAI mortality to 305 million). Hens certified under the USDA Organic program have decreased in proportion to cage-free flocks since Q1 of 2021.

 

The accuracy of individual monthly values is questioned given a history of either sharp changes or no change in successive months as documented over the past two years. Precise quarterly reports would be more suitable for the industry in planning expansion and allocation of capital.

 

Processed Eggs

For the processing week ending March 18th 2023 the quantity of eggs processed under FSIS inspection during the week as reported on March 22nd 2023 was down 2.0 percent compared to the previous processing week to a level of 1,384,348 cases, (1,411,902 cases last week). The proportion of eggs broken by in-line complexes was 50.2 percent (51.5 percent in-line for the previous week) indicating relatively stable proportions of contract and purchased eggs broken. The differential in price for shell sales and breaking will determine the movement of uncommitted eggs. This past week 70.7 percent of egg production was directed to the shell market, (70.2 percent for the previous week) responding to relatively higher prices paid by packers. Breaking stock inventory was down 1.3 percent this past week to 287,000 cases despite diversion to shell-egg markets. Decreased demand from QSRs and casual dining, with apparent lower demand from baking and eat-at-home has contributed to higher inventory of breaking stock. During the corresponding processing week in 2020 (during-COVID) in-line breakers processed 55.3 percent of eggs broken.

 

For the most recent monthly report for week ending March 8th 2022, yield from 5,799,495 cases (5,657,220 cases last month) denoted a slight increase in demand for liquid over the period January 29th through February 25th 2023. Edible yield was 41.7 percent, distributed in the following proportions expressed as percentages: - liquid whole, 62.1; white, 23.1; yolk, 11.6; dried, 2.9.

 

All eggs broken during 2022 attained 76.22 million cases, 2.0 percent less than 2021. Eggs broken in 2023 to date amounted to 14,277,749 cases, 7.5 percent less than the corresponding period in 2022. This is attributed to decreased demand for egg liquids from retail, food service and QSRs and casual dining restaurants despite restoration of service as COVID restrictions are successively relaxed.

 

PRODUCTION AND PRICES

Breaking Stock

The average price for breaking stock was up 8.5 percent this past week to an average of 292.5 cents per dozen with a range of 290 to 295 cents per dozen delivered to Central States plants on March 20th. Checks were up 17.2 percent this past week to an average of 279 cents per dozen over the most frequent range of 278 to 280 cents per dozen suggesting that the market for breaking stock bottomed three weeks ago.

 

Shell Eggs

The USDA Egg Market News Report dated March 20th 2022 confirmed that Midwest wholesale prices for Extra-large and Large sizes were up by 12.7 percent on average compared to the previous week. Mediums were up by 6.8 percent. Prices for generic shell eggs were higher for five consecutive weeks after seven weekly decreases with mostly upward fluctuation in weekly inventory. This suggests increases as the pre-Easter surge begins. In 2023 Easter will be celebrated from April 7th to 10th. The following table lists the “most frequent” ranges of values as delivered to warehouses*: -

Size/Type

Current Week

Previous Week

Extra Large

328-331 cents per dozen

291-294 up 12.6%

Large

326-329 cents per dozen

289-292 up 12.7%

Medium

288-291 cents per dozen

270-273 up 6.8%

Processing:-

   

Breaking stock

290-295 cents per dozen

249-290 up 8.5%

Checks

278-280 cents per dozen

237-239 up 17.2%

 

*Store Delivery approximately 5 cents per dozen more than warehouse price

 

The March 20th 2023 Midwest Regional (IA, WI, MN.) average FOB producer price, for nest-run, grade-quality white shelled Large size eggs, with prices in rounded cents per dozen was up 11.3 percent from last week, (with the previous week in parentheses): -

  1. $3.17 ($2.87), (estimated by proportion): L. $3.15 ($2.83): M. $2.73 ($2.57)

 

The March 20th 2023 California price per dozen for cage-free, certified Proposition #12 compliant Large size in cartons delivered to a DC, (with the previous week in parentheses) was up 13.2 percent from last week.

  1. $4.31 ($3.85); L. $4.19 ($3.70); M. $3.81 ($3.38)

(See the text, tables and figures and the review of production data and prices comprising the USDA Report for February 2023 and the 2nd Quarter FY 2023 results for Cal-Maine Foods under the Statistics Tab)

 

Shell-Egg Demand Indicator

The USDA-AMS Shell Egg Demand Indicator for MARCH 22ndwas down 4.5 points from the last weekly report to -4.7 with a 4.4 percent increase in total inventory and 5.7 percent higher shell inventory from the past week as determined by the USDA-ERS as follows: -

Productive flock

299,074,824 million hens

Average hen week production

81.3%(was 81.1%)

Average egg production

243,043,893 per day

Proportion to shell egg market

70.7% (was 70.2%)

Total for in-shell consumption

 477,358 cases per day

USDA Shell Inventory

1,335,600 cases

26-week rolling average inventory

4.23 days

Actual inventory on hand

4.44 days

Shell Egg Demand Indicator

-4.7 points (was -0.2 on March 15th 2023)

Note 1: USDA Flock numbers were adjusted after incident cases of HPAI in mid-May 2022. The latest estimate of hen population takes into account the depletion of approximately 44 million hens in 22 large complexes (holding over 500,000 hens) in addition to smaller units in eleven states.

 

Dried Egg Products

The USDA extreme range in prices for dried albumen and yolk products in $ per pound was released on March 17th 2023. Data posted by the USDA is incomplete but available values are depicted for the previous week and past months to illustrate the trend in prices influenced by HPAI depopulation and subsequent repopulation:-

Whole Egg

 

$9.90 to $13.80

Average Dec. $12.50

Jan. $12.50

Feb. $11.08

Yolk

$9.50 to $12.25 

Average Dec. $14.65

Jan. $14.65

Feb. $11.94

Spray-dried white

No quotation, past week

Average Dec. $14.18

Jan. $14.18

Feb. No release

Blends

No quotation, past week

 

 

Frozen Egg Products

The USDA range in prices for frozen egg products in cents per lb. on March 17th 2023 compared to the previous week were on average lower but indicating a balance between available products and demand from the manufacturing and retail sectors: -

Whole Egg

$2.45 - $2.47

$2.00 - $2.30

White

$1.83 - $2.30

$1.65 - $2.00

Average for Yolks

$3.35 - $3.45

$3.35 - $3.50

 

The February 2023 averages for non-certified truckload quantities are tabulated (cents per lb.) with January 2023 values in parentheses are: -

Whole, 160c (252c); Whites, 135c (213c); Yolks, 309c (362c). 

 

The USDA has not released a report on dried egg inventory since March 13th 2020 due to inability to obtain data from producers, and will not issue reports for the immediate future.

 

COMMENTS

The 2022 pattern of shedding by migratory birds is expected in 2023 with cases in the Maritime Provinces of Canada followed by extension along the Atlantic Flyway. Outbreaks of H5N1 HPAI should be expected in backyard flocks and combinations of commercial egg complexes, broiler and turkey growing farms among the four flyways. It is evident that some wild domestic birds continue to shed virus based on cases in backyard flocks. This situation requires more intensive monitoring including wild endemic birds and small mammals with guidance by USDA-APHIS to maintain high levels of biosecurity.

 

Outbreaks in commercial egg-producing flocks have extended from February 23rd 2022 to March 15th 2023

 

To date approximate losses in commercial flocks with confirmed HPAI and updates include:-

  • 2,900,000 broilers on 18 farms in 7 states For 2023 to date losses are 450,000
  • 330,000 broiler breeders on 11 farms in 6 states.
  • 9,800,000 turkeys including a few breeder flocks on 229 farms in 7 states. For 2023 to date losses are 127,000
  • 44,000,000 egg-production hens in total with 95 percent on 22 large complexes above 0.5 million in addition to 1,070,000 pullets with a total of 41 locations in 11 states. Pullet mortality does not include “at risk” replacements depleted on affected complexes with contiguous pullet rearing.

 

For 2022 through March 15th 2023, 318 commercial flocks were infected in addition to 459 diagnosed backyard flocks with total losses of approximately 58.6 million birds of commercial species (WOAH reported). To date 47 states, involving 396 counties have recorded at least one case involving wild birds, backyard flocks, commercial farms or their combination.

 

Mexico has depopulated 5.5 million commercial poultry, predominantly egg-producing flocks. One million have been depleted year-to-date

 

From April 2022 through mid-January 2023, Canada recorded 299 outbreaks in commercial flocks in nine Provinces and has depopulated 7.2 million commercial poultry including hens, turkeys and broilers. In addition numerous confirmations of HPAI were made in backyard and subsistence flocks. Isolation of H5N1 avian influenza in wild birds and backyard flocks is a function of surveillance intensity.

 

Collectively the USMCA nations have depopulated approximately 70 million birds in at least 700 flocks.

 

Unlike in previous years there are continuing reports from the E.U. documenting shedding of H5N1 by migratory waterfowl with mortality in other than anseriform wild birds in addition to foxes and marine mammals. Outbreaks of HPAI are still occurring on commercial farms in Eastern and Western Europe. Incident cases have been confirmed in Japan and South Korea during the past three months. These ongoing outbreaks are attributed to contact with migratory birds and deficiencies in biosecurity. Domestic chicken, turkey and duck flocks will be vulnerable, if as usual they are allowed access to pasture. Most veterinary authorities in Western Europe and some in the U.S. have advised flock confinement with obligatory housing in the U.K. and France due to increasing rates of recovery of H5N1 HPAI from migratory waterfowl. Avian influenza strains H5 and H7 persist in Western and Eastern Europe, Asia and both Western and Southern Africa. France and Holland are evaluating DNA vaccines. Mexico has introduced vaccination. An International conference on vaccination against HPAI took place in Paris on October 25th and 26th and considered trade barriers to implementation of vaccination.

 

Backyard flocks that are allowed outside access will continue to be at risk of infection in the U.S. These small clusters of birds in suburban areas are of minimal significance to the epidemiology of avian influenza as it affects the commercial industry. Backyard flocks serve as indicators of the presence of virus among free-living birds as evidenced by ongoing outbreaks in commercial poultry flocks across the U.S.

 

The level of biosecurity in commercial egg production complexes and broiler farms is appreciably higher than in 2015 when the U.S. experienced an epornitic along the Mississippi Flyway The response of state and federal authorities since this time has been rapid and effective both in diagnosing and depleting affected flocks. To date, all floor-housed flocks that were infected were depopulated using foam. Euthanasia of egg production complexes involved various combinations of VSD+ applying heat or carbon dioxide or conventional kill-carts flushed with carbon dioxide.

 

The role of migratory waterfowl in introduction and subsequent dissemination of H5N1 HPAI virus is indicated by the close proximity of infected complexes and their counties with major waterways, lakes, wetlands or reservoirs during the spring and fall months of 2022. There is now limited subjective evidence of aerogenous transmission of HPAI over short distances with virus (possibly shed by wild endemic and migratory birds) becoming entrained in dust and introduced into ventilation inlets by powered ventilation systems.

 

It would have been of practical and financial benefit for APHIS epidemiologists to have reported on their findings from the questionnaires completed following outbreaks on commercial farms. Given the costs to the private and public sectors and to consumers priority should have been extended to the first seven large egg complexes affected. Case-comparison studies against representative unaffected complexes should have been performed using specific and relevent questionnaires. This would have provided advice to producers on risk factors. The industry should have been advised of likely routes of infection including possible aerogenous spread and whether any obvious defects in structural or operational biosecurity contributed to outbreaks. This would have facilitated appropriate preventive action and allocation of additional resources to intensified biosecurity.

 

A preliminary opinion with guidance during mid-April 2022 concentrating on large egg complexes was not an unrealistic request. This is especially the case since large egg complexes in Northwest Ohio and in Colorado were infected during September, in Iowa in October and again in November and in Oregon and South Dakota during early December 2022. This suggests ongoing exposure from wild domestic birds and possibly mammals in addition to migratory waterfowl as evidenced by the increasing incidence in backyard flocks that effectively serve as sentinels. An interim report was released during the first week of March 2023, inexplicably backdated to July 2022. This document, lacking either conclusions or recommendations was critiqued in a special edition of EGG-NEWS on March 8th.