Egg Alternatives

Plant-Based Eggs Come to the Rescue Amid “Eggflation” and Avian Flu Outbreaks

The exceptional circumstances around the poultry egg industry — high prices leading to what has been commonly termed “eggflation“, avian flu outbreaks, the rise of plant-based diets, and food allergy awareness – have created a business opportunity for plant-based egg companies. 

Rising energy, feed, and labor costs have translated into unusually high prices for a dozen eggs in many countries, prompting consumers and manufacturers to look for alternatives. However, these high prices are mostly driven by supply shortages. 

Reportedly, bird flu outbreaks are the primary cause of egg shortages worldwide. Avian influenza, or H5N1, is a highly contagious virus that is deadly to avian populations and has extended across the globe, even reaching the poles.

The virus spread to Europe, Africa, and Asia in 2020, arriving in North America in 2021. As reported by the World Health Organization, in 2022, over 131 million poultry died or were “depopulated” by egg producers to control the disease.

The outbreaks continued in 2023, affecting China, Egypt, Japan, South Africa, and many European countries. Recently, the US confirmed the latest avian influenza outbreak, which took place at Cal-Maine Food, one of the largest egg producers in the country. The company announced it had to depopulate more than 1.5 million laying hens to control the virus. 

From hens to dairy cattle

This recent bird flu outbreak, which started in Texas, has jumped from chickens to livestock in multiple dairy farms nationwide. The USDA confirmed bird flu in Texas, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, and Idaho dairy herds.

The Texas Department of State Health Services also reported a person contracting bird flu through dairy cattle, marking the second confirmed case of H5N1 in the US.  

While cattle may only experience mild illnesses from bird flu, the disease is lethal to all avian populations, not only laying hens. Regarding the human population, experts say the recent species jump highlights the virus’s potential to transform into a pandemic.

© JUST Egg

Egg alternatives to the rescue

In response to the challenges the egg industry poses, plant-based egg alternatives have emerged as a viable solution to this worldwide favorite food.

According to market research IRI, egg alternatives sales increased 20% in the USA last year, with JUST Egg enjoying a 17% increase in sales. Meanwhile, in Europe, many companies, including Neggst, EggField, Crackd, Oggs, and UOBO, have launched new products or expanded their presence in the market.

Plant-based eggs can be liquid, boiled, fried, or a mixing powder. Last year, we even saw the first precision fermentation-derived eggs by The Every Co. served at a restaurant. 

In addition to impacting consumers, the price of eggs and shortages affects the economies of manufacturers and bakers, leading some to explore plant-based options. InnovoPro, Plantible, Nepra Foods, Float Foods, Baker & Baker, Umami United, and The VERY Food Co., among others, offer egg-free ingredients for the food industry.

A photo of a sad and featherless laying-hen.
Image courtesy of Animal Justice Project

“Egg machines”

Most consumers appear to be largely unaware of the realities of egg production, as demonstrated by a recent YouGov survey commissioned by the UK animal protection organization Animal Justice Project.

The non-profit explains that eggs are widely regarded as a cost-effective and convenient food option. They are trendy among consumers and vegetarians, leading to a lucrative industry in the UK.

However, the Animal Justice Project’s investigations have uncovered abuse, neglect, and violence in the egg industry, raising questions about welfare labels and standards. 

According to the organization, free-range eggs are not as humane as they are perceived to be, with many hens kept inside for days and slaughtered at a young age. In addition, the killing of male chicks at birth — an industry-standard procedure — was seen as unacceptable by most of the survey respondents, including vegetarians. 

Despite promises of cage-free and free-range eggs by 2025, the conditions for egg-laying hens remain cruel. The best way to protect hens and prevent cruelty in the egg industry is to adopt a plant-based diet and stop consuming eggs, argues the Animal Justice Project.

Claire Palmer, its founder and director, commented, “This survey reveals just how little the public understand [s] about how eggs are produced. Laying hens are tragically exploited as ‘egg machines’ within the egg industry, enduring immense suffering. Hens endure terrible conditions – crowded spaces, filth, mites, noise, panic and abuse.”

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