Egg prices expected to rise due to Calif. law

Published 10:31 am Thursday, April 24, 2014


The amount of room a hen has to roam before it lays its eggs in California is all but guaranteed to spike the price consumers will pay for a dozen of those eggs in Mississippi and nationwide, according to the Jackson-based company that’s the nation’s largest mover of fresh shell eggs.

“It will affect the rest of the United States,” said Alan Andrews, marketing director for Cal-Maine Foods Inc., during an address to the Vicksburg Lions Club.

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Starting Jan. 1, 2015, egg producers in California must provide cages that are nearly twice as large as most chickens have now. The law stems from a constitutional amendment voters there passed in 2008. State lawmakers have since passed a law requiring all eggs sold there to be raised under those conditions.

“That’s what the people there voted for,” Andrews said. “But, they did polling afterward, and about 68 percent of people said, ‘This isn’t what we voted for.’”

The Humane Society of the U.S. had lobbied heaviest for the new regulations, citing health and safety concerns. The beef industry has opposed it fiercely, saying it will eventually affect meat prices. Earlier this year, attorneys general in five states, Nebraska, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky and Oklahoma, and the governor of Iowa filed a federal lawsuit against the new law.

Egg distributors contend it’s more expensive to produce eggs in the larger-cage, or “cage-free” concept because birds can’t be stacked on several levels inside the same chicken house. Additional labor must be paid to collect stray eggs laid on the ground instead of in enclosed nests, distributors say.

Egg prices this week showed lower prices than last week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. South Central regional prices are 41 cents lower for extra large and large eggs, and 38 cents lower for medium.

Andrews said egg production in California, the nation’s fifth-largest egg producer, is expected to fall by 14 million in 2014. Iowa is tops, at nearly 14.5 billion eggs annually.

Cal-Maine, which owns a 5,000-acre egg-producing operation in Edwards and a hatchery in Mendenhall among its 40 laying operations and 38 processing facilities nationwide, sold about 948.5 million dozen shell eggs in 2013, Andrews said. The figure represents 21 percent of the domestic shell egg consumption market.