Three reasons why egg prices are so high ahead of Easter

As the spring holidays draw near, egg prices remain at nearly historic levels worldwide, reflecting a market in flux due to disease outbreaks, surging demand, and rising costs for farmers.

For the second consecutive year, consumers are experiencing sticker shock as Easter and Passover approach, both festivities where eggs play pivotal roles.

Egg prices around the world

According to recent government data, the average price of a dozen eggs in the United States stood at $2.99 in February, marking a decrease from last year's $4.21. However, it's noteworthy that this is still substantially higher than the $1.59 per dozen consumers paid in February 2021.

Nan-Dirk Mulder, a senior global specialist at RaboBank's RaboResearch Food and Agribusiness division, informed the Associated Press on Tuesday that egg prices in Europe are currently 10% to 15% lower than last year, yet they remain approximately double the prices seen in 2021.

Here are some of the reasons driving up the cost of eggs:

Bird flu outbreaks

In 2020, outbreaks of a lethal respiratory illness known as bird flu surfaced in Europe, Africa, and Asia before spreading to North America in 2021.

Bird flu, scientifically termed avian influenza, is a highly contagious viral infection that primarily affects birds but can also infect humans and other animals in rare cases.

This disease wreaked havoc, resulting in over 131 million poultry worldwide succumbing to the illness or being culled on affected farms in 2022 alone, as reported by the World Health Organization.

RELATED: Costco's $1.50 hot dog and soda combo may not be around forever

The outbreaks didn't stop. In December, the U.S. confirmed cases in 45 commercial flocks and 33 backyard flocks, impacting 11.4 million birds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In South Africa, the aftermath was dire as egg prices soared following the demise of 40% of laying hens late last year due to the ravages of bird flu, as highlighted by Mulder. Last month, a tray of six eggs sold for 25.48 South African rand ($1.34), marking a 21% increase from February 2023.

Weather and war

Chicken feed represents up to 70% of a farmer’s costs, and feed prices doubled between 2020 and 2022, Mulder said. Weather, COVID-related disruptions and the war in Ukraine – which drove up the price of wheat and other crops -- were all contributors.

Furthermore, a recent study conducted by an environmental scientist and the European Central Bank suggests that as temperatures rise due to climate change, food prices and overall inflation will also climb.

Analyzing monthly price data of food and various commodities alongside temperature and climate variables in 121 countries since 1996, researchers predict that "weather and climate shocks" could lead to a yearly increase in food costs by 1.5 to 1.8 percentage points within the next decade. 

This effect is expected to be even more pronounced in regions already experiencing higher temperatures, such as the Middle East. These findings were published in last week's edition of the journal, Communications, Earth and the Environment.

Will egg prices go down soon?

Egg prices are predicted to decrease 2.8% in 2024, the USDA said in its 2024 Food Price Outlook. 

However, it noted a wide prediction interval – -17.2% to 14.6% – due to "the volatility in retail egg prices."

Overall, prices for most food categories in 2024 are predicted to change at a rate below their 20-year historical average, the USDA said. 

The Associated Press and Kelly Hayes contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.