Wednesday, 1 February 2023

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High egg prices due to a ‘collusive scheme’ by suppliers, group claims

Here's why eggs cost so much

Eggs for sale at elevated prices in New York on Jan 21, 2023.

Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Egg prices soared to historically high levels in 2022 — and one group is alleging the trend is due to something more nefarious than simple economics.

Across all egg types, consumers saw average prices jump 60% last year — among the largest percentage increases of any U.S. good or service, according to the consumer price index, an inflation measure.

Large, Grade A eggs cost $4.25 a dozen in December, on average — a 138% increase from $1.79 a year earlier, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The industry narrative has largely focused on a historic outbreak of avian influenza — which has killed tens of millions of egg-laying hens — as the primary driver of those higher prices.

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But Farm Action, a farmer-led advocacy group, claims the “real culprit” is a “collusive scheme” among major egg producers to fix and gouge prices, the group said in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission.

Doing so has helped producers “extract egregious profits reaching as high as 40%,” according to the letter, issued Thursday, which asks FTC Chair Lina Khan to investigate for potential profiteering and “foul play.”

An FTC spokesman declined to comment due to a general agency policy regarding letters, petitions or complaints received from third parties.

However, food economists are skeptical an inquiry would uncover wrongdoing.

“I don’t think we’ve seen anything that makes us think that there’s something there other than normal economics happening right now,” said Amy Smith, vice president at Advanced Economic Solutions.

“I think it was just kind of a perfect storm of stuff that came together,” she added.

Economics or ‘profiteering’?

The U.S. suffered its deadliest outbreak of bird flu in history in 2022.

“Highly pathogenic avian influenza” killed about 58 million birds across 47 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The prior record was set in 2015, when 50.5 million birds died.  

The disease, which is contagious and lethal, affects many types of birds, including egg-laying hens.

In December, the average number of “layers” was down 5% from a year earlier, at a total 374 million birds, according to USDA data published Friday. Overall…

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