CHICAGO Dec 30 U.S. officials are urgently
seeking an agreement with South Korea that would allow imports
of American eggs so farmers can cash in on a shortage caused by
the Asian country's worst-ever outbreak of bird flu.
South Korea banned imports of U.S. table eggs last year
after the United States grappled with its own bout of bird flu.
If a new agreement is reached, U.S. shipments could bring
some relief to South Koreans who have faced soaring egg prices
and rationing since the outbreak there began last month.
The egg shipments also would help U.S. farmers cope with an
oversupply that is depressing prices.
About 26 million birds, more than a quarter of South Korea's
poultry stock, have been culled to control the outbreak, and
most of the birds have been egg-laying hens.
The opportunity to profit by filling the resulting shortfall
with U.S. eggs has sent brokers and traders into overdrive.
Strains of bird flu, which can be spread by wild birds, have
been detected across Asia and in Europe in recent weeks. Two
people in China and one person in Hong Kong have died in the
The United States could reach agreement to resume trade with
South Korea as early as next week, said Mark Perigen, national
supervisor for shell eggs for a division of the U.S. Department
"Everybody's working hard to get it done," Perigen said in
an interview on Friday, adding that USDA employees had worked
during holiday vacations on the issue.
"They're desperate for eggs over there, and the government
realizes that," Perigen said.
South Korea's embassy in Washington did not immediately
respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Glenn Hickman, chief executive of Hickman's Eggs in Arizona,
has received calls from brokers searching for U.S. eggs to ship
to South Korea.
"Everybody in Korea who needs eggs has Googled everybody in
the world who might have eggs," Hickman said.
"We're getting calls from brokers who have no idea even the
right questions to ask us," he added. "It's just somebody who
knows how to freight stuff from the U.S. to Korea."
With no agreement yet between the two countries, Hickman is
asking employees to take contact information for the potential
United States Egg Marketers, a cooperative of farmers that
was established to export eggs, has received "numerous inquiries
about this already, including from people who have never
exported anything in their lives," said Eka Inall, the group's
"Our phone is blowing up, our email is blowing up," she
Last year, U.S. food companies imported eggs from Europe
after bird flu ravaged domestic chicken flocks and sent egg
prices to record highs.
Since then, U.S. prices have tumbled as farmers have ramped
The United States produced 7.44 billion table eggs in
November, up 11.5 percent from a year earlier, and there were
312 million hens laying table eggs on Dec. 1, up 8 percent from
a year before, according to USDA.
On Dec. 26, the average price for a dozen large white U.S.
eggs was $1.17, down from a high of $2.88 in August 2015,
according to market data firm Urner Barry.
"Current conditions in the U.S. are definitely a motivating
factor to get this thing done," Brian Moscogiuri, an Urner Barry
analyst, said about U.S. efforts to ship eggs to South Korea.
In South Korea, the average retail price for 30 eggs has
risen nearly 25 percent to 6,781 won ($5.68) since the outbreak
began on Nov. 18. That is the highest price in more than three
years, according to state-run Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade
If South Korea begins importing U.S. eggs, its residents may
need to adjust to a different appearance of the food staple.
Jim Sumner, president of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export
Council, said many Koreans prefer brown colored eggs, while the
United States mostly produces white eggs.
"As they say, beggars can't be choosers," he said.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)