Egg shortages spawn conspiracies to feed chickens
Social media users say they’ve found a new culprit for sky-high egg prices: chicken feed.
The theory has gained momentum on Facebook, TikTok and Twitter in recent weeks, with some users reporting that their hens have stopped laying eggs and speculating that chicken feed products were the cause. Some went further, suggesting that feed producers intentionally made their products deficient to stop barnyard egg production, forcing people to buy eggs at inflated prices.
“One of the nation’s largest egg producers has reached an agreement with one of the nation’s largest feed producers to change its feed formula so that it no longer contains sufficient protein and minerals. for your chickens to produce eggs,” one Facebook user wrote in a post shared more than 2,000 times. “They are now inflating egg prices to make bank.”
But poultry experts say there is no evidence for such claims. Here’s a closer look at the facts.
COMPLAINT: Chicken feed companies have changed their products to prevent backyard hens from laying eggs and increase demand for commercial eggs.
THE FACTS: Egg prices in U.S. grocery stores have more than doubled in the past year due to an outbreak of avian flu, combined with rising labor and equipment costs. ‘supply.
Some backyard chicken owners may have found their chickens underperforming separately, but experts say the problems are unrelated. While feed quality can affect hens’ laying abilities, state agriculture officials told The Associated Press they haven’t heard of any widespread issues with feed affecting the egg production, and several major feed suppliers say they haven’t changed their formulas.
Experts say there are far more mundane explanations for the low poultry production.
“Is there a vast conspiracy? No, there is no big conspiracy,” said Todd Applegate, professor of poultry science at the University of Georgia. “Beyond diet, there are many, probably even more, things from the bird’s management and environment that create different things that would cause it to either stop producing or reduce its output.”
More than 43 million of the 58 million birds culled in the past year to control the bird flu virus were laying hens, the Associated Press reported.
“Due to the high-trajectory bird flu, we had to depopulate millions of laying hens. And when you take that many chickens out of production, there are fewer eggs,” said Ken Anderson, poultry industry specialist at North Carolina State University. “And when there are fewer eggs, the price goes up.”
Democratic U.S. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and a farmer-led advocacy group have called for an investigation into potential price gouging of eggs by producers. But there is no evidence that changing the diet of chickens leads to higher egg prices.
Agriculture officials in several states, including North Carolina and Georgia, told the AP they had not received any reports of widespread problems.
“Our members haven’t really heard accurate reports of any correlation between diet and egg production,” said Austin Therrell, executive director of the Association of American Feed Control Officials, a group of agencies local, state and federal regulators responsible for pet food. .
Therrell noted, however, that officials responded to questions from people who saw food-related claims on social media.
Other factors could explain individual reports of low barnyard egg yields, experts say. Limited daylight hours in winter can reduce or stop hens’ egg production, as can cold weather, Applegate said. Improperly stored feed can be compromised and also affect egg production.
“Backyard flock producers don’t necessarily follow light schedules to support maximum egg production,” Anderson said. “A lot of backyard people use natural daylight.”
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 at fault. Some said their hens started laying again after changing feeds or making their own. But the companies deny that their products are to blame.
“We confirm that there have been no formulation changes to Purina poultry feed products,” Brooke Dillon, spokeswoman for Land O’Lakes, the parent company of Purina Animal Nutrition, wrote in a statement. E-mail. Similarly, Mary Winn Pilkington, spokeswoman for Tractor Supply, said its suppliers have confirmed there have been “no changes to the nutrient profile” of their food products.
Food products have been recalled in the past for poor nutrition, according to Adam Fahrenholz, associate professor of milling at North Carolina State University. But while dietary nutrition issues, like insufficient protein, can reduce egg production, he found no merit in online claims of a massive conspiracy.
“I don’t find that plausible from the perspective of an intentional, large-scale, you know, planned event at all,” Fahrenholz added.
The conspiracy that feed companies are deliberately trying to sabotage backyard egg supplies has found an audience through wider distrust of government officials and experts, said assistant professor Yotam Ophir. at the University at Buffalo which focuses on disinformation. It’s common for people to look for scapegoats during times of social anxiety, he said. These claims join other recent conspiracies alleging a coordinated effort to undermine the country’s food supply.
“The official narrative kind of reminds us that sometimes we are vulnerable to the randomness of nature,” Ophir said.
This is part of AP’s efforts to combat widely shared misinformation, including working with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.