Avian flu has had a huge effect on the nation's turkey and egg operations; shrinking supplies and lifting prices for egg products, in particular. But farms that raise chickens for their meat — known as broilers — have largely been spared from avian flu.
And the latest monthly report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service says broiler prices are actually ticking down. The supply of broilers appears to be exceeding demand.
“You have two factors contributing to more domestic supply: increased production and a decreased amount of markets that can be exported to,” says Alex Melton, a poultry economist with the USDA.
A number of countries are spooked about avian flu and are limiting imports of U.S. poultry products. China and South Korea have enacted total bans.
“So broiler meat is impacted even if broilers have not been found to catch the virus,” Melton says.
It's still not clear why farms that raise the chickens we eat have mostly dodged the avian flu. Some experts speculate it could have to do with the producers’ biosecurity measures.
Carol Cardona, an avian flu expert at the University of Minnesota, says the short lifespan of broiler chickens could also play a role. She says they only live for about six weeks, compared to hens that lay eggs, which live about a year. Cardona says a lot of biosecurity mistakes can happen over that longer period.
“What you have with the layers being hit versus the broilers is an odds game,” she says.
The broiler price declines play out at the wholesale level first — grocery store chains and fast food companies see prices drop before we do.
But Bruce Babcock, an economist at Iowa State University, expects the declines will trickle down to consumers.
“I bet we'll see some reduction in the retail price of chicken in the next six months,” he says.
Babcock says that could steer more consumers to chicken, and away from pricier meats, like beef.