(Washington, D.C.) — Avian influenza’s outbreak and subsequent high egg prices have caused the poultry industry to research a policy that forces the broiler industry (broilers are chickens raised for meat) to destroy perfectly nutritious and safe eggs. The National Chicken Council (NCC) petitioned FDA to reverse or modify this policy on Thursday.
“In light of the pressure the current HPAI outbreak is putting on the nation’s egg supply, FDA should revisit the use of safe, affordable, and nutritious surplus eggs available for use by egg breakers and their customers,” noted Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs. “Already faced with record egg prices, consumers might be hit even harder in their wallets as we head into the Easter season unless FDA provides us with a pathway to put these eggs to good use.”
More than 58 million birds have been culled since HPAI was first detected in 2022, with the majority of them being egg-laying chickens.
The price spikes and supply disruptions are placing strain on the shell and egg products industries. The impact has trickled down to restaurants, food manufacturers and consumers.
“With the recent risk assessment affirming their safety, we request FDA exercise its enforcement discretion to allow surplus broiler eggs to be sent for breaking without needing to meet the current refrigeration requirements,” the petition urged.
Granting NCC’s request would release almost 400 million safe and nutritious surplus eggs into the egg breaking supply each year, helping to ease costs and inflationary pressures.
“Despite sharp inflation and shocks to the egg supply, hundreds of millions of excess eggs are being wasted when they could be sold safely in the breaking market. Surplus hatching eggs should be made available for sale to egg breakers who can pasteurize them under FSIS jurisdiction into safe and wholesome egg products. This would reduce input costs for food made with egg products and alleviate prices for both table eggs and egg products.”
Due to fluctuating market conditions, broiler hatcheries, can have more eggs on hand than what they want to hatch. These are known as “surplus” hatching eggs. Prior to 2009 when FDA implemented new rules, broiler producers were able to sell these surplus eggs to egg processors, known as “breakers,” to be pasteurized (cooked) and used in egg products.
When eggs are delivered from a breeding farm to a broiler hatchery, they are stored in a room kept at 65 degrees Fahrenheit (F) before they are placed in incubators to be hatched. But the 2009 FDA rule, which was focused on the safety of “table eggs,” or the eggs consumers purchase in grocery stores, stated that all eggs intended to be sent to breaking facilities for eventual pasteurization must be kept at 45 F within 36 hours after being laid.
As a direct result of the 2009 FDA rule, broiler producers stopped selling surplus hatching eggs to egg breakers and were forced to render or throw these eggs away, often at an additional cost. The petition can be read in its entirety here.