For the first time in over a decade, the United States has bought eggs from Europe to offset the ongoing shortage of supplies due to the outbreak of avian influenza in the country.

The bird flu epidemic has greatly affected poultry stocks in several states, forcing farmers to kill off more than 20 million chickens and turkeys in the month of May alone.

While most consumers were not initially aware of the growing crisis, the outbreak has caused major supermarket chains, such as H-E-B Grocery in Texas, to start rationing eggs.

"The United States is facing a temporary disruption in the supply of eggs due to the avian flu," H-E-B said in an official statement.

"H-E-B is committed to ensuring Texas families and households have access to eggs. The signs placed on our shelves last week are to deter commercial users from buying eggs in bulk."

The American Bakers Association (ABA) has also raised concerns over the continued loss of egg supplies in the country. The group includes several prominent wholesale bakeries such as Pepperidge Farm, Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corp. and Linden's Cookies.

Cory Martin, director of government relations for the ABA, said that their members are having a difficult time in securing enough supplies of eggs to continue their production. He added that the outbreak is very much a crisis for their industry.

The dwindling poultry stocks have caused the wholesale price of egg to shoot up in recent months as well. From an average price of $0.63 for a dozen of eggs in liquid form, it now costs more than $1.50 since April.

Experts believe that the bird flu epidemic will continue to affect the country's poultry industry in the months ahead.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last week that it will import eggs from The Netherlands in order to ensure sufficient supplies for American markets. The agency has tasked its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to oversee the importation.

"Through a rigorous process of verification by FSIS of The Netherlands government inspection system, FSIS has determined that the country's food safety system continues to be equivalent to that of the US, which ensures that product is safe, wholesome and properly labelled," the USDA said.

The USDA has authorized five egg processors in The Netherlands to sell their egg products to U.S.-based companies. Adam Tarr, spokesman for the FSIS, said that this will begin as soon as export certificate language details have been arranged within the next few days.

Aside from The Netherlands, six other countries have also been given approval to supply shell eggs for use by food processors and bakeries in the United State, according to the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS). These are Argentina, Chile, Germany, France, Portugal and Spain.

Before the outbreak of bird flu in the country, the U.S. was one of the largest producers of eggs in the world, exporting more than 30 million dozen eggs each month to other others, including Canada and Mexico.

Photo: Jellaluna | Flickr 

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