US School District Ditches Eggs Due To Avian Flu

It's cheaper, more ethical, and better for the climate to bake with plant-based ingredients


4 Minutes Read

A supermarket shelf full of eggs There are many egg alternatives available - Media Credit: Adobe Stock

A school district in Denver, Colorado, is set to cut its carbon emissions and save money as it removes animal products from all baked goods made in its in-house bakery facility.

The avian flu crisis and fluctuating egg prices have got some educational institutions and food businesses interested in replacing eggs in their baking, according to Mercy For Animals (MFA).

Through its project ChooseVeg, MFA worked on new plant-based recipes with the executive chef of the school district. The vegan baked goods, including cowboy bread, cinnamon rolls, and fruit bread, made their debut in the district at the start of the current school year in September 2023.

Through the initiative, the school district has removed the 3,450 pounds of milk powder and 3,930 pounds of eggs it used each year from its supply. It is now using applesauce and soy oil instead.

The benefits of plant-based

According to ChooseVeg, the switch from animal to plant-based ingredients in baked goods means the school district will save 22,517kg of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) a year. That’s the same amount of emissions as driving round the earth twice in a gasoline-powered car.

The school district expects to save around USD $13,600 per year with its new recipes. Eggs in particular became significantly more expensive in the past two years, though prices have since come back down a little. By the end of 2022, the price of a dozen eggs had almost tripled compared to the previous year, up to as much as $18 for a dozen. This was due to factors such as increasing costs of labor, feed, and fuel, which had impacts across the agricultural sector. 

Food allergies are another benefit of the switch. “Cow’s milk and eggs are the two most common allergens in children,” Jennifer Behr, Senior Corporate Relations Specialist for MFA, told Plant Based News. “So by removing both, the school district has made their baked goods more allergen-friendly.”

Avian flu

A farm worker in a hazmat suit picking up chickens amid the ongoing avian flu spread
Adobe Stock Millions of farmed birds have been culled amid the avian flu outbreak

Avian flu has also contributed to the fluctuations in egg prices in recent years. Nearly 82 million chickens, ducks, and turkeys have been killed in the US alone since 2022 in an effort to contain the virus. This has at times caused egg shortages and added to their expense.

The mass killings of birds due to avian flu has been devastating for the animals, particularly as “ventilation shutdown” has become a normal way of “depopulating” entire flocks. Animal advocates have described the suffering of birds killed this way as “extremely profound.”

The upheaval of the egg industry has encouraged workplaces to think about plant-based substitutions. “We’re seeing a growing interest from all types of institutions in removing eggs from baked goods to make them more affordable, inclusive, and sustainable, and to avoid headaches from avian flu-related supply chain disruptions,” Katie Cantrell, CEO of Greener by Default, told PBN.

Plant-based shift

The willingness of the school district to start replacing animal products with plant-based ingredients in its catering is unusual in the US. The meat and dairy industries in particular have an outsize influence on nutritional policies in schools.

In December 2023, the House of Representatives passed a bill to reintroduce whole milk into school canteens again. It was phased out more than a decade ago to help address child obesity in the US.

In 2019, The Guardian revealed how the Trump administration worked with dairy lobbyists to get flavored milk in schools. Republican politicians claimed this would benefit kids’ health, even though flavored milks are packed with added sugar.

Though there are some changes being made in other US public institutions. In February, Los Angeles County unanimously adopted a new policy requiring the county to promote plant-based diets and to buy more plant-based foods and fewer animal-based foods. MFA helped to develop the policy with county officials.

“This is a significant and impactful win for the plant-based movement, as Los Angeles County is the largest U.S. county and spends about $23 million on food purchases each year,” Alex Cerussi, Senior State Policy Manager for MFA, told PBN.

In 2022, public hospitals in New York City announced they would be serving plant-based food to patients by default. NYC’s vegan mayor Eric Adams has also introduced more plant-based food into schools, hospitals, jails, and community events throughout the city.

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