SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is set to keep importing eggs from overseas for the next few weeks despite downgrading the country's worst-ever bird flu outbreak by one notch from the highest level.
The downgrade was introduced from Wednesday as no new cases of the virus have emerged for about two weeks, but government sources said egg imports would keep pouring into the country as it would take time for domestic output to recover after more than a fifth of the nation's total poultry population was culled.
An agriculture ministry official said local supply would return to normal in the second half of the year, but that in the meantime imports would continue, mainly from Australia.
The official, who asked to remain anonymous, said the government was also looking to clear egg imports from Thailand. Shipments from the United States were halted after a bird flu outbreak there.
Jeju Miyin Corp, a trading and distribution company, will ship in around 400,000 of Australian brown-shelled eggs, or 20 tonnes, of eggs per week until local egg prices stabilize, said company head Mark Yun.
The average retail price of 30 eggs was at 7,671 won ($6.71) as of Tuesday, up 35.6 percent since the first bird flu outbreak was confirmed on Nov. 18, according to data from state-run Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Corp.
The first batch of seaborne imports by Jeju Miyin is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday at the port of Busan, Yun said. Previously most cargoes had come by air.
The imported eggs will be mainly distributed to restaurants and grocery stores.
"A total of 1 million eggs are en route to South Korea and will arrive within the next three weeks," he said, referring to imports by his company.
Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Joseph Radford