South Korea to import 1,500 tonnes of fresh eggs ahead of Lunar New Year

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is set to import 1,500 tonnes of fresh eggs before the start of the Lunar New Year holiday season in an effort to prevent prices from spiraling higher amid a worsening shortage caused by the country’s biggest-ever bird flu outbreak.

South Korea’s agriculture ministry said in a statement on Friday that 1,500 tonnes of shell eggs, meaning about 25 million eggs, are expected to come into the country from the United States and Spain ahead of the holiday. Many traditional dishes such as Korean pancakes require the use of eggs in the Lunar New Year, which begins on Jan. 27 this year.

The ministry said it expected the egg imports to bring some relief to the country’s egg crisis, sparked by the widespread bird flu outbreak which has led to a record cull of more than 31 million farm birds, mostly egg-laying hens.

The average retail price of 30 eggs shot up 75 percent to 9,491 won ($8.09) as of Friday compared with prices before the first bird flu outbreak of the winter in mid-November, according to state-run Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp.

As part of measures to ease the country’s egg shortfall, Asia’s fourth-largest economy temporarily lifted import tariffs on eggs and finalised negotiations with the U.S. and Spain to clear egg imports.

The first batch of U.S. fresh eggs will arrive in South Korea on Saturday, which is the first time for Korea to bring fresh eggs from the United States and the first imports of fresh eggs since 1999.

In addition to the fresh egg imports, 695 tonnes of egg products such as dried whole eggs and frozen egg yolks, are also set to be imported before and after the holiday season, the ministry statement noted.

Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell