Is price gouging behind the spike in egg prices? Farm groups asks FTC to crack down
Farm Action, a farmer advocacy group, has accused big egg producers of price gouging, including one that manages a farm based in Ohio.
The group wants the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on the egg industry.
Prices for a carton of a dozen eggs reached about $4 earlier this month in the Miami Valley. That’s a 138% increase from December 2021, when a dozen eggs cost about $1.79, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Experts have blamed high farm costs and an avian flu that’s impacted over 30 million egg-laying hens across the country since it was first detected in early 2022.
That includes 3 million hens in Ohio back in September of 2022. Typically when a commercial barn detects a positive infection, the entire flock of chickens has to be euthanized.
But in an open letter sent to the FTC, Farm Action alleges some of the dominant egg producers have colluded to raise prices.
“The real culprit behind this 138% 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,” Farm Action says in the letter.
Angela Huffman, Farm Action’s co-founder and vice-president, said there’s no supply chain issue to justify those price hikes.
“When prices go up, we would expect one of these companies to put down more laying hens, start producing more eggs and lower their prices to try to take the market share away from the other leaders," she said. "But that hasn't happened.”
The letter names four companies involved in the scheme, with Cal-Maine leading the industry, which controls nearly 20% of the egg market.
The letter also names Versova Holdings. It manages several farms, including Trillium Farms headquartered in Central Ohio. It also has other farms in Larue, Marseilles and Mt. Victory, Ohio.
The farm was established in 2011 and produces roughly 3.65 billion eggs annually, according to the company's website.
Versova Holdings did not respond to comment by the time this story was published.
Farm Action’s letter says although the avian flu theory seems significant, the actual impact in egg production was minimal. That’s partly because egg producers reported a record high of eggs throughout 2022 and the loss of hens was not substantial enough to create a shortage of eggs.
Jim Chakeres, the executive director of the Ohio Poultry Association, said, however, the claim is off base.
“It's not accurately reflecting the situation. Eggs are sold wholesale as a commodity, the ebb and flow of supply and demand are what sets the prices,” Chakeres said.
Farmers are not price setters, he said, they're price takers.
Huffman, along with Farm Action is asking the FTC to investigate the egg industry, but also to more strongly enforce consolidation within the food and agriculture industry.
“It's time for industry-wide reform. We're calling on the FTC to take action in the case of the egg industry,” Huffman said. “They can prosecute if they do find antitrust law violations and ultimately, they can seek restitution for the money that has been basically stolen from the American people.”
Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.