The Chicken and the Eggonomy
Why memes are the best source of news for what's going on with the egg supply
Maybe you have noticed: something is going on with the egg supply.
In January, chicken and egg prices reached historic highs. Premium stores like Costco and Whole Foods are restricting the number of eggs customers can buy at any price.
Explanations for the egg situation are all over the map, with official narratives, counter-narratives, and fringe theories vying for supremacy.
The government’s story is that waves of avian flu hit hens throughout 2022, leading to a loss of 43 million egg-laying hens and 29% drop in US egg inventories by the end of the year.
A political counter-narrative has emerged: economist Robert Reich and Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman accused corporate egg producers of using avian flu and inflation to justify price-gouging.
Fetterman and Reich cited Farm Action, a farmer-led advocacy organization, to bolster their claim. FA says the real reason behind high egg prices is “a collusive scheme among industry leaders to turn inflationary conditions and an avian flu outbreak into an opportunity to extract egregious profits reaching as high as 40 percent.”
For what it’s worth, Twitter’s Community Notes disputed that interpretation.
Those are the officials stories, but the rabbit hole doesn’t end there.
A video with nearly a million views on Twitter claimed the real reason for the egg shortage is inflation: the cost of producing eggs for farmers has skyrocketed as “feed, electric, the price of new birds” have all become more expensive.
However, says the video, supermarkets are refusing to pay farmers fair value for eggs, leaving farmers in the lurch with razor-thin margins and shortfall of capital to buy more birds.
Further out on the explanatory fringe, a handful of viral videos blamed commercial chicken feed for a sudden drop in hen fertility.
Another video with quarter million views on Twitter claimed that switching from chicken to goat feed caused her hens to resume laying eggs.
The feed claims were sharpened into an accusation that two major feed producers—Tractor Supply and Purina—were deliberately reducing the amount of protein in their feed, leading to a drop in egg production.
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