Cal-Maine Foods, the largest US egg producer, said the avian flu outbreak may give egg producers a chance to speed up conversions to cage-free housing.
Dolph Baker, president of Cal-Maine, said that faced with repopulating herds of hens affected by highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), producers might slow down the process to give themselves time to build cage-free facilities.
Addressing the 2022 BMO Global Farm to Market Conference, Mr Baker said he expects the repopulation process to be slower for that reason than it was in 2015, the year of the last major outbreak of HPAI.
Cage-free eggs are in demand because of new laws, in California and elsewhere, that prohibit the sale of eggs from hens that were caged – even those laid in other states.
A report from an advocacy organisation stated that 92% of the egg processors it surveyed were complying with cage-free mandates.
Mr Baker said Cal-Maine regularly gets calls from smaller producers proposing an acquisition.
“The problem,” Mr Baker told the conference, “is that many of these smaller, often family-owned companies don’t have cage-free production, and Cal-Maine prioritises converting its existing facilities to cage-free over buying other companies and converting them.”