US egg shortages unrelated to Bill Gates

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Articles and social media posts are connecting Bill Gates to egg shortages in the US. This is misleading; while the billionaire is the country's biggest private owner of farmland, a global avian flu outbreak is the primary culprit for the dearth of eggs.

"Bill Gates, who has a history of making uncannily prescient investments just before disaster strikes in the world, invested in artificial eggs before the price of eggs spiked," says a January 30, 2023 article from NewsPunch, a website that AFP has previously fact-checked for spreading misinformation.

Articles from websites such as The Gateway Pundit have also drawn parallels between Gates's portfolio and egg shortages in the US.

Several widely shared tweets mention his investments in plant-based protein products and farmland.

Screenshot of a tweet taken February 1, 2023
Screenshot of a tweet taken February 2, 2023

 

 

Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, does own a substantial portion of US farmland -- and he has invested in plant-based alternatives to traditional agricultural products. However, there is no evidence he is stoking a national egg deficit.

"The current egg shortages are primarily caused by the outbreak of avian influenza," said Lilong Chai, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

A massive outbreak

Since early 2022, more than 58 million birds have been affected by avian influenza in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 40 million "table egg-laying hens" have died, Chai said.

That has contributed to egg shortages across the country -- and recovering from the outbreak may take longer than usual.

"The Covid-19 outbreak and policies might have impacted production efficiency of breeding/hatchery, labor hiring and biosecurity management on egg farms in the past three years," Chai said.

Further exacerbating the situation are rising fuel prices and bird feed shortages due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as well as high demand for eggs over the holiday season.

Still, Michael Persia, a professor and poultry nutrition specialist at Virginia Tech, told AFP the scarcity of eggs is not unprecedented.

"The US egg market saw a similar response to the avian influenza outbreak in 2015," he said.

H5N1 has resulted in high mortality among poultry and wild birds in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa since 2003, according to the CDC. The virus was discovered in US birds around 2015.

"This virus is deadly to poultry, especially older birds, and is easily transmitted from bird to bird," Persia said.

Gates's investments

Gates is "America's largest private farmland owner," according to a 2021 investigation from the Land Report, a magazine that focuses on private land ownership. However, that does not mean he owns the majority of US farmland, as some online have claimed.

"I own less than 1/4000 of the farmland in the US," Gates said in a Reddit thread on January 11, 2023. "I have invested in these farms to make them more productive and create more jobs. There isn't some grand scheme involved -- in fact, all these decisions are made by a professional investment team."

Gates Ventures, a venture capital firm that includes his personal staff and technology investment portfolio, told AFP that claims about his supposed involvement in the egg shortages are "false." But the company said it would not "disclose information related to specific investments." An NBC News report found Gates-owned farms producing potatoes, soybeans, carrots and onions.

Gates has acquired land across the US for years, and his foundation is involved in sustainable agriculture development. The billionaire has also invested in companies that make plant-based alternatives to egg and meat products, including Eat Just and Impossible Foods.

Those facts serve as the foundation for conspiracy theories about Gates, according to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Conspiracy theories always build from something that has a core element of truth in it; they have to locate their basic premises someplace in the real world," said Jamieson, co-author of a book on conspiratorial beliefs.

Since Gates "wants people to be fed with high-nutrition products," she said theories that he is somehow behind the dearth of eggs will "stay as long as the shortages are there."

AFP has previously fact-checked numerous false claims about Gates, who is often the subject of health-related conspiracy theories.

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