Egg shortage sparks chicken-feeding conspiracies

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Social media users claim to have found a new culprit for high prices for eggs : chicken feed.

The theory gained traction on Facebook, TikTok and Twitter in recent weeks, with some users reporting that their hens stopped laying eggs and speculating common chicken feed products were the cause. Some went a step further to suggest that feed producers had intentionally made their products deficient to stop backyard egg production, forcing people to buy eggs at inflated prices.

“One of the largest egg producers in the country has reached an agreement with one of the largest feed producers in the country to change the formula of their feed so that it no longer contains enough protein and minerals for their chickens to produce eggs,” wrote a Facebook user in a post shared more than 2,000 times. “Now they are raising the prices of eggs to make money.”

But poultry experts say there is no evidence for such claims. Here's a closer look at the facts.

COMPLAINT: Chicken feed companies have modified their products to prevent backyard chickens from laying eggs and increase demand for commercial eggs.

THE FACTS: Egg prices in the US at grocery stores more than doubled in the past year due to an outbreak of bird flu, combined with rising labor and supply costs.

Some backyard chicken owners may have separately found their chickens to be underperforming, but experts say the problems are unrelated. While feed quality can affect hens' ability to lay eggs, state farm officials told The Associated Press they haven't heard of any widespread problems affecting egg production, and several major feed suppliers say they They have not changed their formulas.

Experts say there are far more mundane explanations for poor poultry production.

“Is there a broad conspiracy? No, there is not a broad conspiracy," said Todd Applegate, a professor of poultry science at the University of Georgia. "Beyond feeding, there are many things, probably even more, in the management and environment of the bird that create different things that would cause it to stop producing or reduce production."

More than 43 million of the 58 million birds culled in the last year to control the bird flu virus have been laying hens, reported The Associated Press .

“Due to high trajectory avian influenza, we have had to depopulate millions of laying hens. And when you take that many chickens out of production, there are fewer eggs,” said Ken Anderson, a poultry industry specialist at North Carolina State University. "And when there are fewer eggs, the price goes up."

Democratic US Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and a farmer-led advocacy group have called for a investigation on the possible increase in egg prices by producers. But there is no evidence that altered chicken feeding is driving up egg prices.

Farm officials in several states, including North Carolina and Georgia, told the AP they have received no reports of widespread problems.

"Our members really haven't heard any accurate reports of any correlation between feed and egg production," said Austin Therrell, executive director of the Association of American Feed Control Officials, a group of responsible federal, state and local agencies. to regulate animal feed. .

Therrell noted, however, that officials answered questions from people who saw claims related to feeds on social media.

Other factors could explain individual reports of poor backyard egg yields, experts say. Limited daylight hours in the winter can reduce or stop chicken egg production, as can cold weather, Applegate said. Improperly stored feed can be compromised and affect egg production as well.

“Backyard flock producers don't necessarily follow lighting programs to support maximum egg production,” Anderson said. "A lot of people in the backyard pack use natural light."

Many social media users claimed that specific food products, such as those offered by Purina Animal Nutrition and Tractor Supply, a chain of farm supply stores, were to blame. Some said their hens started laying again after they switched feeds or made their own. But the companies deny that their products are to blame.

"We confirm that there have been no changes to the formulation of Purina's poultry feed products," Brooke Dillon, a spokeswoman for Land O'Lakes, the parent company of Purina Animal Nutrition, wrote in an email. Similarly, Mary Winn Pilkington, a spokeswoman for Tractor Supply, said her suppliers confirmed there were "no changes to the nutritional profile" of their food products.

Food products have been recalled in the past for inadequate nutrition, according to Adam Fahrenholz, an associate professor of food milling at North Carolina State University. But while feed nutrition problems such as insufficient protein can reduce egg production, he found no merit in online claims of a massive conspiracy.

“I don't find it plausible from the point of view of a large-scale intentional planned event, you know, not at all,” Fahrenholz added.

The conspiracy that food companies are deliberately trying to sabotage the supply of backyard eggs has found an audience thanks to a broader distrust of government officials and experts, said Yotam Ophir, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo who focuses in misinformation. It's common for people to seek scapegoats during periods of social anxiety, he said. The claims are attached to other recent conspiracies that they allege a coordinated effort to undermine the nation's food supply.

“The official narrative reminds us that we are sometimes vulnerable to the randomness of nature,” Ophir said.

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