Turkey, the reigning poultry of Thanksgiving, may be harder for millions across the US to obtain this year, as experts warn of shortages and spiking prices ahead of the holidays.
With Thanksgiving on Thursday, experts have flagged the problem of inflated turkey costs combined with a decreased supply of the bird, especially large ones. Both circumstances could spell pricier turkeys, smaller turkeys or no turkey at all for many at Thanksgiving dinner this year.
A long outbreak of avian flu has infected millions of turkeys ahead of the holiday season.
The virus was first detected in Indiana in February, and has infected chickens and turkeys in at least 46 states, reported PBS News. The avian flu has also affected poultry in Europe and Canada.
By late October, more than 6 million turkeys in the US had died as a result of bird flu, 3% of national turkey production, reported the Washington Post.
Turkey farmers say their flocks have either died outright of the virus or been euthanized to prevent infection.
“It’s devastating,” said Heidi Diestel. Diestel’s family runs the Diestel Family Turkey Ranch in Sonora, California, about two hours outside of San Francisco. Their ranch lost over 150,000 turkeys in August after avian flu hit one of their flock.
Inflation has also made buying a turkey ahead of Thanksgiving a challenge, with prices soaring for the bird since last year.
The price of a turkey typically increased by almost $5 or 21% versus in 2021, reports Axios, citing the informal American Farm Bureau’s annual Thanksgiving dinner survey.
Thankfully, turkey prices have dropped somewhat since the survey was conducted using prices from October 18-31.
But there are fears that increased prices could hit food banks, which provide the bird and other Thanksgiving staples to families in need.
Food pantries that previously had an infusion of pandemic government assistance are now seeing that monetary donations do not cover as much.
“The amount of food that is donated right now into the charitable food system does not meet the demand for food assistance,” Katie Fitzgerald, president of the non-profit Feeding America, told Marketplace.
“Food banks really had a lot of support through the pandemic, with government assistance. A lot of those funds are drying up,” she added.
Food banks also report that received donations reflect sharp price increases affecting many.
For Beans and Bread, a shelter and food pantry outside of Baltimore, Maryland, higher prices of food have meant fewer donations and people substituting cheaper poultry for the beloved turkey.
“It’s cheaper with chicken. So some of our donors are resorting to buying chicken,” a Beans and Bread volunteer coordinator, Victoria Ezeji, told Marketplace.