Calls to break up Big Ag have resurfaced after a large egg producer in the U.S. announced windfall profits. A March 28 press release by Cal-Maine Foods said the Mississippi-based egg producer recorded a total revenue of $997.5 million – a 109 percent increase – for the quarter ending Feb. 25. Cal-Maine Foods’ profit for the same period shot up by 718 percent to $323.2 million.
“Our results are reflective of a dynamic market environment with higher average selling prices and favorable demand,” said Cal-Maine President Sherman Miller. “Elevated market pricing continues, primarily due to the impact of the ongoing epidemic of highly pathogenic avian influenza, which has significantly reduced the nation’s egg-laying capacity.”
“U.S. egg inventories were 29 percent lower in the final week of December 2022 than at the beginning of the year,” said the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It added that more than 43 million egg-laying hens were lost to either the avian flu itself or culling measures to stop the disease since the outbreak began in February 2022. (Related: Government says “bird flu” responsible for rising egg prices.)
Back in April 2020, Cal-Maine was included as a defendant in a class action lawsuit alongside Costco, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. The complaint filed in federal court accused egg producers and grocery chains of jacking up egg prices amid the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
According to the lawsuit, egg prices have not only tripled at the aforementioned groceries – but prices have stayed 10 percent higher than they were prior to the March 4, 2020 emergency declaration by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. It continued: “Because the price of eggs has risen more than 180 percent during the COVID-19 emergency, it is clear that some or all of the defendants have raised their prices to an extent that violates the law.”
Sanders, other lawmakers challenge Big Ag
Several lawmakers decried the windfall profits announced by Cal-Maine. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) blasted Cal-Maine in a tweet: “Why are the American people angry? Maybe it has something to do with the largest producer of eggs in America increasing its profits by 718 percent last quarter, after doubling the price of eggs and reporting zero cases of avian flu. We must break up Big Ag and enact a windfall profits tax.”
Sanders took on agricultural monopolies during his failed presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tweeted in response: “While working families paid record prices for eggs, Cal-Maine raked over 700 percent more in profits – without reporting a single case of avian flu. We need to crack down on corporate price gouging to provide Americans with relief at the grocery store.”
“Corporate greed is driving inflation,” tweeted Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA). “We need more competition to drive down prices. In the meantime, I’m demanding answers from Cal-Maine directly.”
This demand for answers came in the form of a Feb. 16 letter Warren and Porter wrote to Cal-Maine and four other giant U.S. egg producers. They expressed concern over the massive spike in egg prices and the extent to which egg producers may be using fears about avian flu and supply shocks as a cover to pad their own profits.
“American families working to put food on the table deserve to know whether the increased prices they are paying for eggs represent a legitimate response to reduced supply or out-of-control corporate greed,” the two Democrats wrote.
Watch this news report about skyrocketing egg prices.
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