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Cage-free egg inventory recovers following avian flu outbreak

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Cage-free hens make up an increasing portion of the total U.S. egg-laying flock. In March 2024, the cage-free flock was reported at about 40 percent (124.8 million layers) of the U.S. flock. However, a wave of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in egg-laying hens in late 2023 reduced the inventory of cage-free eggs into February 2024. An estimated 13.6 million birds, both cage-free and caged, were depopulated following an outbreak spanning November 2023 to January 2024. This depopulation included about 4 million hens from California’s cage-free flock. California laws require its retailers to source eggs from cage-free layers regardless of the State of origin. To make up for the shortfall, cage-free eggs from other States were shipped to the California market. The resulting spike in demand prompted the advertised national average retail price for cage-free eggs to peak at $5.26 per dozen on January 12, 2024. Weekly wholesale prices for eggs in California increased to a high of $5.59 per dozen in the following weeks. U.S. inventories of cage-free eggs have since recovered, up from their low the week of January 22, 2024, and continued to climb into April 2024. Prices of cage-free eggs have also returned to a typical range. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, March 2024, and has been updated with recent data.

Growing share of egg-laying hens are cage-free

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Cage-free hens, which unlike caged hens are free to roam during the laying cycle, comprise a growing percentage of the U.S. egg-laying flock. The cage-free flock has grown as States have passed and enacted legislation banning confinement of hens and as multiple retailers and food service providers have pledged to only source eggs from cage-free operations. Additional State bans are planned to take effect between 2023 and 2026. According to the USDA, Monthly Cage-Free Shell Egg report, the cage-free egg-laying flock (including certified organic hens) increased by more than 10.5 million hens in the first 6 months of 2023. As a result, cage-free hens increased as a proportion of the total U.S. laying flock, expanding from 36 percent in January to 38 percent in June. A closer look at USDA’s data reveals that the nonorganic cage-free flock accounted for most of this increase, while the organic egg-laying flock accounted for a smaller share of growth. The same report estimates cage-free hens’ productivity. Starting in late 2021, cage-free lay rates have been moving mostly above or at similar levels to the lay rates in the overall table egg-laying flock, a departure from the previous trend. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook, August 2023.

Avian flu losses in 2022 affected turkey breast prices more than whole hens

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Frozen wholesale turkey breast prices climbed abruptly in response to the 2022 avian flu outbreak, a disease that led to sharply reduced poultry inventories. Before the outbreak started in February 2022, both frozen whole bird (hen) and wholesale turkey breast prices had been increasing gradually. Cumulative losses because of avian flu surpassed 7 million turkeys, and breast prices peaked at $2.98 per pound in the week ending October 7, 2022. Prices remained elevated for the remainder of the year. Once reports of new outbreaks slowed in mid-December 2022, whole turkey hen prices leveled off. At the same time, breast prices declined, averaging $2.34 per pound in the week ending April 28, 2023. This is $0.32 higher than a similar week in 2022, but down $0.64 from the peak price last year. Divergence in prices between frozen turkey breast meat and whole bird prices is, in part, explained by seasonality; demand for whole birds is much more seasonal than wholesale demand for turkey breast meat. Turkey breasts are more versatile than whole hens. At 4-8 pounds, turkey breasts can be sold directly at the retail level or used in deli meats and other processed products. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, May 2023.

Number of States with restrictions on egg-laying hen confinement is small but growing

Friday, March 10, 2023

In 2008, California passed Proposition 2, a ballot measure that banned in-State egg-laying operations from housing laying hens in a way that made them unable to fully extend their limbs or turn around freely. Since then, eight more States have passed similar bans on confinement or caged production of laying hens. In addition, Ohio imposed a suspension on new permits for caged-layer operations. Many of these bans are scheduled to take effect between 2023 and 2026. Before 2022, fewer than 5 percent of egg-laying hens were raised in States with implemented restrictions on confined or caged production, but that number is expected to surpass 13 percent by 2026. Based on average 2002–17 Census of Agriculture values for egg-laying operations, about 3 percent of operations in 2021 were covered by confinement or caged production restrictions, but coverage will grow more than sixfold by 2026. Despite the increasing coverage of State bans in the U.S. egg-laying flock, as many as 85 percent of operations in the United States (representing 87 percent of total U.S. egg production) would still legally be allowed to produce using these cage systems after 2026. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report, State Policies for Farm Animal Welfare in Production Practices of U.S. Livestock and Poultry Industries: An Overview, December 2022.

Regionality of avian flu outbreak limits losses in broiler production

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

The 2022 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak has had relatively little impact on the broiler industry based on the volume of broiler meat produced in the United States. HPAI was detected in Indiana in February 2022 for the first time nationally since 2015 and was soon confirmed at multiple commercial poultry operations. Flocks at operations with detected infections were depopulated to prevent further spread of HPAI. Because of the limited overlap of the 2022 HPAI outbreak with broiler-producing regions, commercial flocks in the top four broiler-producing States (North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, and Alabama) have largely avoided HPAI. Of the 43.8 million commercial birds depopulated as of October 7, 2022, 2.3 million were meat-producing broilers. This represents less than a tenth of 1 percent of typical annual broiler slaughter. The effect on broiler production during the 2015 outbreak was also relatively small. Production reached a then-record volume, increasing nearly 4 percent from 2014. Broiler production has increased every year since and is forecast to total more than 45 billion pounds in 2022. This chart first appeared in USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook: September 2022 and has been updated with recent data.

Hog welfare laws cover 9 States and 3 percent of the national herd in 2022

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Over the past two decades, multiple States have passed animal welfare regulations in hog production. These regulations ban the common practice of using gestation crates—metal enclosures used to house pregnant sows—or stipulate space requirements for animals to stand and turn around. In addition to restrictions during production, two of these States, California and Massachusetts, passed retail sales restrictions that prohibit the sale of pork originating from animals kept in gestation-crate systems or their direct offspring. Hog welfare regulations are concentrated in States with relatively small pork industries. The proportion of the national herd covered by gestation crate bans is currently estimated at 3 percent based on expected production in 2022. Except for Michigan, each State with existing bans on gestation crates has produced, on average, less than 1 percent of total U.S. pork production (in pounds) since 2018. Ohio will become the largest hog-producing State to ban gestation crates when its regulations go into effect in 2026. Based on State hog inventories in December 2020, projected coverage of the total U.S. hog herd and the breeding herd is expected to remain below 10 percent of hogs and pigs under current State regulations through 2026. This chart is drawn from “State Animal Welfare Policies Covering U.S. Pork Production,” in the February 2022 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook from USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Most new antibiotic approvals for food animals have been generic drugs also used for humans

Monday, May 11, 2020

U.S. regulations on antibiotic use in food animal production have focused on antibiotics important for human disease treatment, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) terms “medically important.” If current human antibiotics lose efficacy and new ones are not developed, the ability to treat human infections may be hindered. In 2017, FDA policies ended the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in food animals. Antibiotics deemed “currently not medically important” are not used to treat human illnesses and can still be used for animal growth promotion. Other uses of medically important antibiotics in food animal production require veterinarian oversight. These policies follow earlier actions in the European Union (EU) banning medically important antibiotics for growth promotion. Most new antibiotic approvals for food animals have been generic drugs that are also used for humans. Between 1992 and 2015, about 70 percent of antibiotics were considered medically important. This suggests that animal pharmaceutical companies are increasingly developing generic antibiotics for food animals, not new varieties of antibiotics. Although new approvals for non-medically important, non-generic antibiotics for food animals declined, they still averaged about 1.3 per year in 2015. This chart appears in the ERS report, The U.S. and EU Animal Pharmaceutical Industries in the Age of Antibiotic Resistance, released May 2019.

New antibiotics for food animals decreased as a share of overall veterinary drug approvals between 1992 and 2015

Monday, December 16, 2019

Many antibiotics developed for use in animal production are “cast-offs” from products originally intended to be marketed to humans. Therefore, the decline in the development of new human antibiotics suggests there may a similar decline in the development of new antibiotics for food animal production. The share of food-animal antibiotics as a portion of all veterinary drug approvals has declined from 62 percent in 1992-94 to 40 percent in 2013-15. The decline reflects increasing development of new animal drugs approved for companion animals, from 30 percent of all approvals in 1992-94 to 47 percent in 2013-15. Given the overall decline in the number of all animal drug approvals between 1992 and 2015, the decline in the share of food-animal antibiotics approvals also reflects a decline in the number of approvals for such drugs. This chart appears in the ERS report, The U.S. and EU Animal Pharmaceutical Industries in the Age of Antibiotic Resistance, released May 2019. See also the Amber Waves article, “Developing Alternatives to Antibiotics Used in Food Animal Production,” published in May 2019.

New nongeneric human drug approvals have increased while new animal drug approvals declined

Monday, June 3, 2019

The human and animal pharmaceutical industries are closely linked, with similar research processes and business structures. However, although animal pharma is a large global presence ($23.9 billion in sales in 2014), human pharma is 42 times larger (nearly $1 trillion in sales in 2014). Because the human pharma market is more lucrative, many drugs are originally explored for use in humans. Human drug innovations historically also have been a source of new products in animal pharma. Conversely, trends in the numbers of new drug approvals in the United States for humans versus animals have diverged over time. Between 1971 and 2015, the number of new nongeneric drug approvals for animal use dropped from 154 to 30 annually, while those for human use climbed from 136 to 392 annually. The higher number of approvals for human drugs reflects the larger size of the human pharma market. This divergence in the numbers of drug approvals may also be driven by changes in the focus of human medicine, which increasingly demands palliative care drugs that have fewer applications in the animal pharmaceutical market. This chart appears in the ERS report, The U.S. and EU Animal Pharmaceutical Industries in the Age of Antibiotic Resistance, released May 30, 2019. See also the Amber Waves article “Developing Alternatives to Antibiotics Used in Food Animal Production,” published in May 2019.

Farmer share of retail value of red meat is declining

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The spreads between farm prices for hogs and cattle and retail prices for pork and beef have widened over the past 18 months, leading to a decline in the farmer share of retail red meat prices. Growing cattle inventories and increased pork production are pushing cattle and hog prices lower. For the fourth quarter of 2015, hog prices (51-52% lean) averaged about $45 per hundredweight, down about 33 percent from a year earlier and nearly 50 percent below the prices received in the second quarter of 2014. Similarly, cattle prices (5-market steer price) averaged $128 per hundredweight in the last quarter of 2015, down nearly 23 percent from the fourth quarter 2014. Retail prices for both beef and pork are down as well, but by a smaller magnitude as they tend to adjust more slowly to changes in the farm price due to the wide variety of other costs—including labor, packaging, storage, and transportation—that also contribute to retail prices. This chart is based on the ERS Meat Price Spreads data product.

Among rising U.S. meat exports, pork has the highest value

Thursday, May 10, 2012

U.S. meat exports began to accelerate in the mid-1980s, and U.S. meat producers have become major players in rapidly expanding world meat markets. On a quantity basis, the greatest gains in U.S. meat exports since the 1980s have been in U.S. poultry exports. However, U.S. pork exports have posted the largest gains, in terms of export value, over the same time period and since 2008 have been the highest valued of U.S. meat exports. Beef was for many years the top U.S. meat export because it is, by far, the highest priced meat. The value of beef exports hit a record $3.2 billion in 2003 before dropping in response to the discovery of BSE, and then recovering. Until 2003, the value of beef exports had generally exceeded the value of pork and broiler meat exports as technical and organizational changes-feeding patterns, animal genetics, and industry structure, for example-exerted downward pressure on the prices of these meats relative to beef. Pork, in turn, is relatively higher priced than broiler meat, and the value of pork exports recently surpassed that of broilers as the quantity of pork exports has grown. This chart is an update of one found in the Animal Production & Marketing Issues topic on the ERS website.