By Alyse Kiara Deatherage
As egg prices have fallen in states across America, many are still looking for answers on what caused such a shortage and record-breaking price increases for this staple of the American Household.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in January that the cause of the dramatic increase in prices of eggs was the Highly pathogenic avian flu (HPAI), which hit farms across the country in the spring of 2022.
In a report from January 11, the Economic Research Service of the USDA reported an increase in egg costs from lower than 200 cents per dozen in January to over 500 cents per dozen by December 2022.
The USDA reported a 29 percent loss in egg-laying hens, resulting in around 43 million hens lost across egg producers.
They additionally stated that the need for eggs is heightened during the holiday season, and so this led to a dramatic increase in prices leading into the 2023 year.
“Lower-than-usual shell egg inventories near the end of the year, combined with increased demand stemming from the holiday baking season, resulted in several successive weeks of record high egg prices,” reported the ERS of the USDA. Such an increase led to prices rising 210 percent higher than the previous year’s costs.
In California, eggs saw costs from $10.00 per dozen to almost $14.00 per dozen. The average expense for a dozen eggs in Los Angeles in January was $13.49. In San Bernardino, a dozen eggs can be found at the Ralphs on University Parkway for $8.99. In Loma Linda, a dozen eggs can be found at Clark’s for $10.99.
As February comes to its final weeks, a dozen eggs are slowly creeping back to average costs of around $5.99-$6.99 per dozen.
While the crisis seems to have been averted for many American households, there is still a problem at hand for organizations such as Farm Action which claim that the USDA did not have the correct source for such dramatic price increases in the egg market.
Farm Action, an advocacy group that claims they are “dedicated to building a food and agriculture system that works for everyone, not just a handful of powerful corporations,” wrote to Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan requesting that the FTC look into what they claimed to be price gouging.
“The real culprit behind this 138 percent hike in the price of a carton of eggs appears to be a collusive scheme among industry leaders to turn inflationary conditions and an avian flu outbreak into an opportunity to extract egregious profits reaching as high as 40 percent,” claimed Farm Action in their letter.
Farm Action continued its claims by pointing to Cal-Maine Foods, and its long history of conspiracies to control prices and inflate them with the help of other top egg producers. Such a claim was supported by a jury that discovered such a conspiracy in 2018, according to Farm Action.
Cal-Maine Foods is the largest egg producer in the United States, covering the sales of shelled eggs for “the southwestern, southeastern, mid-western and mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S.,” according to their website. They have more than 42 million egg-laying hens on their farms.
The company claims to be at the forefront of cultural sustainability in its company, and states its “mission is to be the most sustainable producer and reliable supplier of consistent, high-quality fresh shell eggs and egg products in the country.”
While Cal-Maine Foods has agreed with the USDA’s claim that the avian flu is the cause of the most recent price increases on eggs, Farm Action states that the avian flu and decrease in available egg-laying hens are not a steep enough decrease in production to warrant such high prices for eggs.
Cal-Maine Foods has increased quarterly sales by 110 percent, with their gross profits up more than 600 percent compared to past years, according to Reuters News.
According to their letter to Chair Khan, there was only an approximate 7-8 percent decrease in egg-laying hens due to the avian flu in 2022. This only caused around a 1 and 4 percent decrease in overall egg supplies, compared to the years 2017-2021. Thus, Farm Action claims that this decrease could not warrant the price hikes that Cal-Maine and the USDA have claimed they did.
Reuters News also reported that Cal-Maine Foods has no record kept of positive avian flu tests on their farms.
Farm Action also addressed the claim that rises in gas and other production necessities for feed and transportation could have contributed to these higher prices for eggs. The group claimed that the 22 percent increase these necessities have caused the company, and others like it, would still not warrant such high costs in eggs, even when included with the losses from the avian flu.
Farm Action concluded the letter requesting the FTC’s assistance in an investigation into Cal-Maine Foods, but no response has been reported at this time.
It may be too late for such an investigation to begin and be fought for, as the USDA reported in a U.S. News Report on February 13 that egg production is now returning to normal, or moderately normal levels in California and some other states.
“California and regional egg prices are 57 cents lower for Jumbo, down 36.5 to 59 cents for Extra Large, 6.5 to 57 cents lower for Large, unchanged to 20 cents lower for Medium, and unchanged for Small,” the report stated.
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