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When Fox entered the hen house
And tried to make me into a soufflé
Fox News is after me again.
This is nothing new. Former Fox host Bill O’Reilly once accused me of being a communist (this was before O’Reilly was ousted after it was reported that he and Fox News paid five women $13 million to settle various sexual misconduct lawsuits).
Fox’s Lou Dobbs accused me of wanting government to favor women and Black people over white men (this was after Dobbs accused Barack Obama of not being a natural-born U.S. citizen but before Dobbs was named in a multibillion-dollar defamation suit claiming he employed false conspiracy theories to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election).
This time, Fox News is throwing eggs.
Headline from Sunday’s Fox news feed, distributed to all Fox News outlets: “Former Labor Secretary mocked for blaming egg prices on corporate greed.” Subhead: “Robert Reich is a former Clinton official and far-left academic who is often critical of capitalism.”
Seems I’m still stirring up the yolks at Fox.
Look, I’m sufficiently hard-boiled not to let any of this fry me. I mention it today only to illustrate the extremes to which Fox and other right-wing outlets (bankrolled by big money) will go to stop any talk of “corporate greed.”
It started last Friday when I tweeted:
“Egg prices are up 60%. That’s absurd. People are paying up upwards of $6 and $7 for a dozen eggs. Why? Corporate greed. Cal-Maine, the largest egg producer in the US, is raking record profits — $198 million in its latest quarter. That’s a 65% increase from a year ago.”
“Corporate greed” are fighting words in the land of Rupert Murdoch.
So Fox tried to throw egg on my face by quoting Nick Freitas, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, who tweeted: “I’ve noticed for Bob, that ‘corporate greed’ explains everything. And giving people like Bob more power fixes everything.”
As to the facts, there’s no doubt egg prices have soared. As CNN reported last week, the average selling price per dozen eggs from Cal-Maine — which controls about 20 percent of the U.S. egg market and sets egg prices nationally — more than doubled last year.
The question is why.
Fox blames avian flu. Avian flu did kill a lot of hens, but according to Farm Action, a farmer-led advocacy organization, in a letter sent last week to the Federal Trade Commission, avian flu did not reduce egg production.
After accounting for chicks hatched during 2022, the average size of the egg-laying flock in any given month of 2022 was never more than 7-8 percent lower than in 2021. And due to record-high rates of egg-laying among the remaining hens — between 1-4 percent higher than the average rate observed between 2017 and 2021 — the industry's quarterly egg production experienced no substantial decline in 2022 compared to 2021.
So if the supply of eggs didn’t decline, what accounts for the surge in prices?
Fox then blames inflation. “Prices increased across all product categories last year due to high inflation.”
But Cal-Maine’s production costs didn’t jump nearly as high as its prices (as Cal-Maine told its investors).
What did jump was Cal-Maine’s profits. For the 26-week period ending November 26, 2022, Cal-Maine reported a 10-fold year-over-year increase in gross profits. Max Bowman, the chief financial officer of Cal-Maine, conceded that the firm’s high profits were due to “significantly higher selling prices, our enduring focus on cost control, and our ability to adapt to inflationary market pressures.”
Yet Fox News won’t take greed for an answer. To egg me on, they quote Minnesota State Representative Walter Hudson, who tweeted: “Hey, Bob. Why weren't they greedy last year?” (I assume Hudson means 2021.)
Answer: They didn’t have an excuse to raise prices in 2021. That was before the avian flu outbreak and before inflation really took off. Companies don’t like to openly engage in price gouging. That would be bad for the corporate image.
So what’s caused egg prices to soar?
After sifting through the evidence, Farm Action concludes:
The real culprit behind this 138 percent hike in the price of a carton of eggs appears to be a collusive scheme among industry leaders to turn inflationary conditions and an avian flu outbreak into an opportunity to extract egregious profits reaching as high as 40 percent.
What Cal-Maine Foods and the other large egg producers did last year—and seem to be intent on doing again this year—is extort billions of dollars from the pockets of ordinary Americans through what amounts to a tax on a staple we all need: eggs. They did so without any legitimate business justification. They did so because there is no ‘reasonable substitute’ for a carton of eggs. They did so because they had power and weren't afraid to use it.
Not especially sunny-side up — but at least not scrambled by Fox.
While avian flu and inflation may have contributed to some of the rise in prices, the extraordinary surge certainly smells rotten. The leading egg firms have a long history of cartel-like conspiracies to limit production, split markets, and increase prices for consumers.
Farm Action wants the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. On Tuesday, Senator Jack Reed asked the FTC to investigate whether “fowl play” by egg producers may have harmed consumers.
When it comes to the corporate monopolization of eggs — or of anything else — the American public shouldn’t go over easy.