High egg prices should be investigated, U.S. farm group says

Jan 19 (Reuters) – The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should look into higher egg prices because of signs of lower prices from top egg companies, a farm group said, as Americans continue to pay more than ever before for housing. .

US regulators, farmers, and industry have often argued in recent years about the power of major agricultural companies to set prices and raise what consumers pay for their purchases, such as when beef prices rose in 2021.

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

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited the outbreak of avian flu as the reason for the high prices. But the country’s antitrust regulators must also focus on the egg industry’s huge profits, Farm Action said Thursday in a letter to FTC chairwoman Lina Khan.

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Cal-Maine Foods ( CALM.O ), which controls 20% of the egg market, reported quarterly sales up 110% and gross profit up more than 600% in the same quarter last fiscal year, according to data from the end of December. and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company cited a nationwide egg shortage due to avian flu that is driving up prices as a reason for its sales. The company did not have positive bird flu tests on any of its farms.

Egg production in the US was about 5% lower in October compared to last year, and egg production was 29% lower in December compared to the beginning of the year, the latest data from the USDA shows – a significant decrease, but which will not explain the history – higher prices, said Basel Musharbash, a lawyer for Farm Action.

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

The FTC declined to comment.

In a statement, Cal-Maine said high production costs, as well as the avian flu, are contributing to rising prices.

The American Egg Board, an egg trade group, said that egg prices are showing mixed trends and that retail egg prices are starting to fall.

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

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

Reporting by Leah Douglas Editing by Bill Berkrot and Alistair Bell

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Leah Douglas

Thomson Reuters

Award-winning Washington reporter covering agriculture and energy including competition, law, government, corporate, environment and climate, racism and jobs, previously at the Food and Environment Reporting Network.

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