Eggs are a low-priced protein source and are consumed worldwide. Each commercial chicken lays between 265-280 eggs per year. In the United States, the grade and size of eggs are regulated under the federal Egg Products Inspection Act (1970). The grades of eggs are AA, A, and B, and must have sound, whole shells and must be clean. The difference among the grades of eggs is internal and mostly reflects the freshness of the egg. Table eggs vary in color and can be determined by the color of the chicken's earlobe--white earlobes lay white eggs, reddish-brown earlobes lay brown eggs, etc. In the U.S., egg size is determined by the weight of a dozen eggs, not individual eggs, and range from Peewee to Jumbo. Store-bought eggs in the shell stay fresh for 3 to 5 weeks in a home refrigerator, according to the USDA.
Eggs are primarily used as a source of food, although eggs are also widely used for medical purposes. Fertile eggs, as a source of purified proteins, are used to produce many vaccines. Flu vaccines are produced by growing single strains of the flu virus in eggs, which are then extracted to make the vaccine. Eggs are also used in biotechnology to create new drugs. The hen's genetic make-up can be altered so the whites of the eggs are rich in tailored proteins that form the basis of medicines to fight cancer and other diseases. The U.S. biotech company Viragen and the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh have produced eggs with 100 mg or more of the easily-extracted proteins used in new drugs to treat various illnesses including ovarian and breast cancers.
Prices - The average monthly price of all eggs received by farmers in the U.S. in 2007 rose by +60.37% yr/yr to 92.8 cents per dozen, which was an 18-year high.
Supply - World egg production in 2001, the latest reporting year, was 795.711 billion eggs. The world's largest egg producers at that time were China with 49% of world production, the U.S. with 11%, Japan with 5%, Russia with 4%, and Mexico with 4%. U.S. egg production in 2007 fell -0.73% to 90.190 billion eggs, down from the 2006 record high of 90.857. The average number of hens and pullets on U.S. farms in 2006 (latest data available) rose by +0.7% yr/yr to 346.078 million, which was a new record high.
Demand - U.S. consumption of eggs in 2007 rose +1.7% yr/yr to 6.530 billion eggs. That was a new record high and was up about 23% from 10-years earlier, reflecting sharply higher egg consumption due to the popularity of a low-carbohydrate diet since eggs are high in protein. U.S. per capita egg consumption in 2007 rose +0.4% yr/yr to 257.1 eggs per year per person. Per capita egg consumption was at a high of 277.2 eggs in 1970, fell sharply in the 1990s to a low of 174.9 in 1995, and then began rebounding in 1997 to current levels of over 250 eggs per year.
Trade - U.S. imports of eggs in 2007 rose +10.0% yr/yr to 8.8 million dozen eggs, but still well below the 17-year high of 15.0 million posted in 2002. U.S. exports of eggs in 2007 rose by +2.05% yr/yr to 179.0 million dozen eggs, but that was still well below the record export level of 253.1 million dozen eggs in 1996.