Farming in America

Eggs: Edible... But still incredible?
By Cristina DC Pastor

There was a time when you could enjoy the newspaper over a breakfast of two sunny side eggs, some bacon, and a piece of toast with butter.

Today, it's likely that whatever you're reading could ruin your appetite.

It seems no food is good enough anymore. Bread has too many carbs, bacon has too much fat and eggs are loaded with cholesterol.

Food freak-outs are nothing new, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous for those being targeted. Inaccurate and over-hyped reporting has brought entire industries to their knees in the past, and now, egg producers are scrambling to make sure they're not next.

Gene Gregory, president and CEO of the United Egg Producers, says the egg industry is going strong, despite high input costs and negative press.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report shows production has increased almost 30 percent over the past quarter century—with output of 218.14 million egg cases in 2010, up by 27.9 percent from 170.5 million cases in 1984.

Beth Sparboe Schnell, president of Sparboe Farms, painted another picture. "Like all agriculture, the egg industry is faced with challenges," said Sparboe whose company maintains egg-production facilities in Minnesota, Iowa and Colorado.

Though consumption may have risen over the past quarter century, "demand has been flat to down the last couple of years," she said. Per capita egg consumption has been declining yearly since 2006—from 259.5 per person down to 247.8 in 2010, according to the USDA, and is expected to decrease again this year to only 240 eggs.

"Still, people consume 246 eggs each year and eggs remain the highest quality, lowest cost protein source," she said, The rising cost of feed and fuel is causing farmers to fret over their bottom-line. She said the September 2012 feed cost per ton is the second highest monthly feed cost reported since January 2000. "Since feed is the highest cost component in egg production, high feed costs do affect egg producers. Also, high fuel prices have increased distribution costs."

She said some producers would rather streamline production and tighten their belts than pass on these increases to customers.

Industry leaders are utilizing research to battle negative—and often misguided-perceptions that eggs are high in cholesterol and therefore unhealthy when eaten in large amounts. Said Schnell, "The USDA's report in 2010 showed that eggs are now 14 percent lower in cholesterol and 64 percent higher in Vitamin D. This decrease in cholesterol means that an egg a day is OK for most consumers."

In true American farming fashion, Schnell said her company has expanded from offering traditional white eggs to offering a variety—everything from brown to vegetarian, cage-free and organic. "Our producers produce eggs from the systems requested by their customers and preferred by consumers."

And egg production is the portrait of efficiency. "In our business, eggs are broken and can be sold as liquid egg, powdered egg and frozen egg to be used as ingredients in foods like baked goods, noodles, and ice cream. We have customers that purchase whole egg, egg white and egg yolk. No part of the egg is wasted," she said.

Affordable, all-American and easy to prepare, eggs will remain a breakfast staple, said Schnell. Sides may come and go—bacon and bread will be replaced with yogurt and fruit every now and then—but the incredible, edible egg is here to stay.

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