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

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US regulators, farmers and industry have often argued in recent years about the power of top agricultural firms to fix prices and drive up what consumers pay for groceries, like when the price of beef went up in 2021.

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

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) pointed to the record outbreak of bird flu as a 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 chairwoman Lina Khan.

Cal-Maine Foods, which controls 20% of the retail egg market, reported quarterly sales up 110% and gross profits up more than 600% over the same quarter in the previous fiscal year, according to a filing Late December with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In the filing, the company pointed to a reduction in the supply of eggs nationwide due to bird flu driving up prices as a reason for its record sales. The company has not had any positive bird flu tests on any of its farms.

US egg production was about 5% lower in October compared to last year, and egg inventories fell 29% in December compared to the beginning of the year, latest USDA data shows – a significant reduction, but one that may not explain record- high prices, said Basel Musharbash, a lawyer with Farm Action.

“We want the FTC to dig in and see if consumers are getting price gouged,” Musharbash said.

The FTC declined to comment. Cal-Maine did not respond to a request for comment.

The American Egg Board, an egg marketing group, said in a statement that egg prices reflect a variety of factors and that wholesale egg prices are beginning to decline.

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

By Leah Douglas

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