(2017) What is bird flu?
01:12 - Source: CNN
Hong Kong CNN  — 

Japan has lost so many chickens to bird flu, it’s now running out of land to bury them.

Japanese state broadcaster NHK reported Tuesday that 16 out of 26 prefectures in the country did not have enough land to dispose of culled birds properly. All 26 had reported experiencing avian flu outbreaks recently.

While local authorities and farms usually kill and bury the animals to prevent further spread of the virus, the land shortage has now held back those efforts, according to NHK.

Japan has been grappling with a record outbreak of avian flu in recent months, putting strain on the supply of poultry and sending the price of eggs soaring.

More than 17 million chickens have been culled this season, the highest number on record, NHK reported Tuesday.

Japan previously slaughtered nearly 9.9 million in fiscal 2020 over another bird flu crisis, its last record high.

In a report this month, Rabobank said global egg prices had “reached historic high levels” in the first quarter of 2023, citing the impact of avian flu across countries and higher feed costs for hens.

Between mid-2020 and mid-2022, global feed prices have doubled, largely due to fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it said.

Now, prices globally “are 2.5 times higher than the reference year of 2007, and have increased more than 100% since this time last year,” wrote Nan-Dirk Mulder, Rabobank’s senior analyst of animal protein.

The situation has spurred some people around the world to buy their own hens to secure their own supplies of the pantry staple.

In Japan, egg prices reached a 10-year high of 235 yen ($1.8) last month, according to Rabobank.

“Prices in many other markets have reached historic highs as well, including in Thailand, the Philippines, Israel, New Zealand, Nigeria, Kenya, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina,” it said.

Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force personnel head to a chicken ranch to roll out preventive measures against avian flu in the city of Chitose, Hokkaido on March 28. An outbreak at the farm led to the culling of hens that day.

The situation isn’t expected to improve much this year.

While countries such as Japan and the United States may have already experienced price peaks, “we expect prices to stay relatively high throughout 2023, especially in markets heavily impacted by avian flu, high costs, and regulatory changes,” Mulder wrote.

“In other markets there will be some drop in prices, but not to pre-2021 levels, as lingering high input costs are keeping prices higher.”

Avian flu is caused by infections that occur naturally among wild aquatic birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infected birds can transmit the virus to other animals through their saliva and other bodily discharges.