High egg prices need to be investigated, says US farm group

High egg prices need to be investigated, says US farm group

Jan 19 (Reuters) – The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should examine high egg prices for signs of price gouging by major egg companies, an agricultural group said, as Americans continue to pay more for the household staple than ever before.

U.S. regulators, farmers, and industry have often discussed in recent years the power of major agricultural companies to set prices and increase what consumers pay for groceries, such as when the price of beef skyrocketed in 2021.

The latest concern is eggs, whose price rose 138% in December from a year earlier, to $4.25 a dozen, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has pointed to a record outbreak of bird flu as the reason for the high prices. But the nation’s antitrust regulator should also examine record profits at the top egg company, Farm Action said Thursday in a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan.

Cal-Maine Foods (CALM.O), which controls 20% of the retail egg market, reported a 110% increase in quarterly sales and an increase in gross profit of more than 600% compared to the same quarter last year. previous fiscal year, according to a report from late December. with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company pointed to declining egg supplies across the country due to bird flu driving up prices as one reason for its record sales. The company has not had positive tests for bird flu at any of its farms.

US egg production was about 5% lower in October compared to last year, and egg inventories were down 29% in December compared to the beginning of the year, the latest data from the USDA, a significant drop, but one that may not explain the record. high prices, said Basel Musharbash, a Farm Action attorney.

“We want the FTC to investigate and see if consumers are being price gouged,” Musharbash said.

The FTC declined to comment.

In a statement, Cal-Maine said higher production costs, coupled with bird flu, were contributing to the higher prices.

The American Egg Board, an egg trading group, said in a statement that egg prices reflect a variety of factors and that wholesale egg prices are starting to fall.

Nearly 58 million chickens and turkeys have been killed by bird flu or to control the spread of the virus since early 2022, mostly in March and April, according to the USDA. The previous largest outbreak, in 2015, killed 50.5 million birds.

Cal-Maine shares have fallen in recent weeks after rising nearly 50% last year.

Reporting by Leah Douglas Editing by Bill Berkrot and Alistair Bell

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Thomson Reuters

Award-winning Washington-based journalist covering agriculture and energy issues, including competition, regulation, federal agencies, business consolidation, environment and climate, racial discrimination, and labor, formerly with Food and Environment Reporting Network.

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