SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is extending a scheme to subsidize up to half the cost of importing eggs by sea for another two months until the end of April, as it grapples with a shortfall in local supply in the wake of its worst-ever bird flu outbreak.
The country has culled over 33 million farm birds since the first case of the latest outbreak of the virus was found in November last year, decimating domestic supply of eggs and pushing prices higher.
The country's agriculture ministry originally planned to cover half the air and sea-borne shipment costs for imported eggs through the end of February.
But it said in a statement on Monday that it would extend that until the end of April for cargoes sent by sea, although not for eggs transported by air. It said that most eggs had been imported by boat following the Lunar New Year holiday in late January.
South Korea had by Feb. 23 spent 645 million won ($570,000) of the 900 million won earmarked for egg import subsidies, the ministry said in the statement.
Since egg imports started in January, Asia's fourth-largest economy has brought in nearly 805 tonnes of fresh eggs and almost 837 tonnes of egg products, according to the ministry.
The average retail price for 30 local eggs stood at 7,490 won ($6.62) on Monday, dropping over 20 percent from 9,543 won on Jan. 12, which was the highest since the bird flu outbreak began.
Although the spread of the H5N8 virus is abating, three cases were reported at poultry farms last week, the ministry said.
Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Joseph Radford