Conservative commentator Candace Owens is adding fuel to the conspiratorial fire, demanding that farmers be careful about what they feed their animals in light of national egg shortages.

The price of eggs across the United States is causing pain in people’s wallets due to what U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data shows is the largest avian influenza outbreak in history.

It has resulted in the death of 57.83 million birds from the start of 2022 to January 11 of this year, exceeding the previous record of 50.5 million bird deaths in 2015. Birds either succumb to the flu or pass it to others within commercial flocks.

Prices have risen dramatically year-over-year in the following states: Iowa, by 153 percent; South Dakota, by 137 percent; Wisconsin, by 118 percent; Minnesota, by 116 percent; and Nebraska, by 104 percent.

“If you are a farmer, stop feeding your animals with Purina feed,” Owens tweeted on Thursday. “After investigating I am convinced that they could be behind the issue with hens not laying eggs. Entirely feasible that a corporation would poison animals to increase their profit margins.”

Purina was brought up earlier this week by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has referred to egg price increases as a conspiracy perpetrated by the media and Biden administration.

Carlson said that “some farmers who deal with chickens every day are not convinced” by the blame given to the avian outbreak, supply chain issues, and increased costs of packaging and transportation intertwined with higher-than-normal rates of inflation.

“Now healthy hens lay eggs on a regular basis, every 24 to 26 hours. But suddenly, chicken owners all over the country—not all of them, but a lot of them—are reporting they’re not getting any eggs or as many,” Carlson said. “So what’s causing that? Clearly, something is causing that. Some have concluded their chicken feed may be responsible.”

Candace Owens Eggs Shortage Tucker Carlson Chickens
Eggs are seen on a shelf at Pioneer Supermarkets on January 12 in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City. Inset: Conservative commentator Candace Owens is pictured. Owens has joined Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in saying that chicken feed could be responsible for egg shortages and higher prices for consumers, a stance that others in the industry disagree with.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images; Jason Davis/Getty Images

Ralston Purina Company sold its domestic agricultural feed subsidiary in 1986 to Purina Mills Incorporated, which was acquired by Land O’Lakes in 2001. Nestlé Purina PetCare licenses the Purina trademarks to Land O’Lakes, according to a January 31 statement from Nestlé Purina.

“At Nestlé Purina Petcare, our business is to make pet care products solely for dogs and cats,” Bill Etling, spokesperson for Nestle’ Purina Petcare, told Newsweek. “We do not make the chicken feed that has been mentioned in recent news coverage and on social media.

“Purina Animal Nutrition, which is owned by Land O’Lakes, makes farm feed for a variety of livestock and farm animals, including chicken feed,” he added.

The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) has also strongly rebuked all claims of chicken feed negatively affecting egg production.

Animal nutritionist Paul Davis told the AFIA that homemade hen diets are not better than commercial feed, nor are commercial feed manufacturers selecting lower-quality ingredients to save costs.

He also said that commercial feed specifically formulated for laying hens should offer adequate nutrition for egg production, adding that decreases in egg output can be attributed to one or a combination of factors, including improper nutrition via the wrong type of food, feed freshness, colder temperatures, poor management or the onset of parasites or diseases.

“The U.S. animal food industry takes product quality and safety very seriously,” AFIA spokesperson Lacie Dotterweich told Newsweek. “The U.S. animal food industry is regulated by states and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and more specifically under the Food Safety Modernization Act. FSMA impacts all involved in manufacturing of animal feed, from ingredient processors to animal food manufacturers.”

That compliance includes adherence to Current Good Manufacturing Practices and the completion of a food safety plan, which must include a hazard analysis and implementation of preventive controls as necessary.

“All ingredients used in animal food need to be an approved food additive, generally recognized as safe or have an ingredient definition that reviews safety and efficacy of the products,” Dotterweich added.

Davis, like Purdue University food and agricultural economist Jayson Lusk, discounted price gouging.

However, Farm Action President Joe Maxwell told Newsweek that price gouging is likely the reason consumers are bearing the brunt of these dramatic cost increases.

Farm Action, a research and advocacy group that works to impact the food and agriculture system, wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on January 19 to convey “concerns over apparent price gouging, price coordination, and other unfair or deceptive acts or practices by dominant producers of eggs such as Cal-Maine Foods, Rose Acre Farms, Versova Holdings, and Hillandale Farms, among others.”

The letter was also sent to the Department of Justice and USDA, both of which acknowledged receiving the letter but have not commented further, according to Maxwell.

Chicken feed is not to blame, he added.

“We believe that based upon the information filed with the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] and based upon the dynamics operating within the market that there is evidence of potential collusion among the dominant egg producers in this country who ensure that prices remain high and excessive above the market where we think they should be,” Maxwell said.

“We believe the evidence is clear that their costs have gone up. We know that the avian flu is real,” he added.

Newsweek has reached out to the FDA for comment.