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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – With egg prices more than doubling in the past year, there are calls for an investigation into possible price increases.

US Senator Jack Reed sent a letter on Tuesday asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether egg prices were improperly manipulated by producers. A farmer-led advocacy group called Farm Action made a similar request Claiming last week that “there appears to be a collusive scheme among industry leaders to turn inflationary conditions and an outbreak of bird flu into an opportunity for huge profits.”

Increase in egg prices attributed to millions of chickens slaughtered to limit the spread of bird flu, and farmers forced to compensate for inflation. increasing their costs.

But while roughly 43 million of the 58 million birds killed to fight bird flu over the past year were egg-laying hens, the total flock size at any one time was only 5 to 6 percent below normal. the size of about 320 million chickens.

National average retail price A dozen eggs hit $4.25 in December, up from $1.79 a year ago, according to the latest government data.

“At a time when food prices are high and many Americans are struggling to afford their groceries, we must examine the industry’s role in maintaining high prices and hold accountable those responsible for their actions,” Rhode Island said in its letter. Democrat Reed. to the FTC.

But trade groups say egg prices are largely determined by commodity markets, and experts say the bird flu outbreak, along with rising fuel, feed, labor and packaging costs and continued high demand for eggs, is the real culprit behind the price hike.

“Current egg prices reflect many factors, many of which are beyond the control of egg farmers,” said Emily Metz, president and CEO of the American Egg Board trade group.

Jason Lusk, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, said, “I think the basic economics of the situation do a good job of explaining the price increase.” He said small reductions in egg supply could lead to big price increases because consumer demand for eggs doesn’t budge much.

The FTC did not immediately respond to questions about concerns about egg price hikes Tuesday, but the agency generally does not comment on inquiries outside of an investigation.

Cal-Maine Foods, the largest U.S. egg producer, was singled out by both Reed and Farm Action after it reported last month that its quarterly sales rose 110% to 801 .7 million with record egg prices, helping it generate $198.6 million. million profit. up from just $1.1 million a year ago.

The Ridgeland, Mississippi-based company said it “wants to assure our customers that we are doing everything we can to maximize production and keep store shelves stocked” and that “the domestic egg market has always been intensely competitive and highly volatile, even in normal market conditions.” conditions”. »

The prices Cal-Maine charges its customers are determined through negotiations with the grocery chains, club stores and distributors it sells to. Cal-Maine said its prices averaged $2.71 a dozen last quarter. That’s nearly double the $1.37 it fetched a year ago, but still well below what consumers are paying.

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