October 31, 2022 - Avian influenza, inflation and cutbacks from three years ago have resulted in a nationwide turkey shortage less than a month before Thanksgiving
Ham or steak may be on the menu this Thanksgiving, as the United States faces a massive turkey shortage before the holiday. Bird flu, inflation and cutbacks from turkey farmers all the way back to 2019 have contributed to the lack of turkeys at the market this year.
A contagious strain of avian influenza ran rampant this spring, carried around the U.S. by migrating birds and contaminated droppings, according to The New York Times. While the avian flu recurs annually, common strains typically die out in the warm summer months. Eurasian H5N1, 2022’s deadlier strain of the virus, has yet to peter out. Roughly 7.3 million turkeys have died from the virus, with outbreaks observed in 42 states so far.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed this year’s first case of the virus back in February at a commercial turkey farm in Dubois County, Indiana. Indystar reported that nearly 30,000 turkeys had been euthanized and nearby farms were tested to help prevent the avian flu from spreading further, but Eurasian H5N1 has since been reported in California, Maine and Florida.
The decline in the turkey population didn’t start in 2022, however. Following 2019 — when the cost per pound of turkey was at an all-time low — turkey production dropped significantly. March of 2020 saw roughly 200 million fewer pounds of turkey being produced, WATTPoultry reported. By July, when the pandemic had taken full effect, that number had doubled, further contributing to the shortage.
To top it off, inflation in the United States has brought the price of the unpardoned bird to new heights. The average price of an 8- to 16-pound turkey sits at $1.99 per pound, a 73% increase from last year’s $1.15 per pound, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Turkey farmers also face higher costs, as the price of feed has gone up 10% since August 2021.
Turkeys aren’t the only bird affected, as chickens are also dying of the avian flu. The cost of both meat and eggs have jumped in 2022, the cost of chicken per pound sitting at $1.79 back in April — a 15-year high, according to Bloomberg. Deli owners struggle to find meat to stock their displays and customers are paying more for less bird per pound, KSBY reported.
Restaurants, too, are making adjustments to their menu for Nov. 24. The New York Times reported that restaurants such as Pomella in California and Evie Mae’s Pit Barbeque in Texas either couldn’t guarantee turkey dinners on Thanksgiving or simply would not be offering turkey for the holiday.
“Everything is so crazy right now,” said Mallory Robbins, co-owner of Evie Mae’s Pit Barbecue.