By Michele F. Mihaljevich
SEYMOUR, Ind. — Overproduction in the egg industry continues to be a concern for producers, the newest chairman of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association’s board of directors said recently.
While demand for eggs and egg products remains good, the industry has been impacted by calls for cage-free housing, Greg Hinton noted. Hinton, vice president of sales for Rose Acre Farms in Seymour, was elected chairman in January.
“We’ve added a lot of cage-free birds over the past few years, but operations with cages are not disappearing,” he explained. “This is the challenge as we build more cage-free production. We’re in an overproduction situation today.”
Several states, including California and Michigan, have passed legislation requiring cage-free environments in the next few years. Multi-national food companies are promoting cage-free housing but many restaurants and supermarkets aren’t seeing a big increase in demand for cage-free, Hinton pointed out.
“There’s only a 15 percent demand for cage-free eggs from consumers,” he noted. “Consumers are choosing lower prices versus cage-free, which may be 2-3 times more expensive than (caged) eggs.”
The move to cage-free has been sparked by social pressures, Hinton said. “The industry has spent a lot of money to go cage-free. In the 1960s, many operations were cage-free. Then the layers were put in cages and now we’re taking them back out of cages.”
In the United States, 279 eggs per capita are consumed annually, he said. The number includes restaurant and industrial use and eggs used as ingredients. Mexico and Japan have the highest consumption per person worldwide.
“Demand has been steady,” Hinton stated. “We’re always looking at new products to help increase demand.”
There are positives going on in the industry, he said, such as new technologies in housing and processing equipment. “Egg producers get the opportunity to feed the world. We’re proud to be able to give people a healthy food at a good price.”
Food safety is something the industry takes seriously, Hinton said. Producers in the United States are keeping a close eye on an increase of avian influenza in some parts of Europe, he noted. In 2015, U.S. chicken and turkey producers lost millions of birds as a result of an outbreak of the disease in the Midwest.
The trade war with China isn’t having a direct impact on the egg industry because the United States doesn’t export eggs there, Hinton said. Originally, producers were concerned the price of grain might rise, but that hasn’t materialized. The industry is pleased with the progress made on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement as Mexico and Canada are the two biggest markets for U.S. eggs, he said.
The egg industry isn’t overly concerned with the introduction of some plant-based proteins into the marketplace, Hinton said. In the poultry industry, “Tyson has invested in plant-based chicken and beef. Other broiler companies have invested as well. They’re looking at it as an opportunity.”
Hinton has been with Rose Acre for 40 years. During his one-year term as chairman, he’ll attend association meetings and will present some poultry judging awards during the annual FFA convention in Indianapolis in October. He’s a member of the association’s executive board, where he’s previously served as secretary, treasurer and vice chairman. He’ll serve for a year as past chairman once his current term is over.