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How Do You Like Your (Powdered) Egg?

By GEMMA BAGAYAUA-MENDOZA

Poultry raisers raise the alarm as a powdery challenger inches into the market

POULTRY RAISING, IN PARTICULAR THE EGG-PRODUCING SECTOR, may soon become an industry in distress—thanks to the importation of egg powder, and the impending reduction of tariff on agricultural by-products.

An entire barangay may even lose a thriving business that has sustained its residents for the past three decades.

When Brenda Dimayuga and her neighbors started egg farming in the 1970s, their barangay—Galamay Amo—was the poorest in the town of San Jose, Batangas. Typical houses were made of nipa and light materials. And during fiestas, it is said, only one pig was butchered—to be shared by the whole barangay.

Through egg production, the residents were able to improve their lot. Most of them now live in concrete houses. Each household owns at least one vehicle. And during fiestas, at least two pigs are butchered in every home.

Dimayuga was able to put her children through college. Now, all of them are professionals, two of them doctors. And she takes pride in having given jobs to other people in her neighborhood, for what used to be a backyard business now employs at least 40 workers.

Dimayuga is not the only one who made her fortune out of the egg-laying industry. There are thousands of egg producers like her all over the country—mostly from Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, and Central Visayas. At present, the entire industry employs around 90,000 workers, managers, traders, market vendors, and transit/store helpers. Each year, the industry generates P16.6 billion worth of chicken eggs and P2.5 billion worth of duck eggs.

What made this business very profitable is that, unlike in the case of other agricultural products, the egg market remains dominated by local producers. Difficulties in transporting fresh eggs and their short shelf life—eggs last for only 15 days under room temperature and 30 days when refrigerated—work to the advantage of local raisers.

This comfortable state of affairs may change soon, Dimayuga and other egg raisers told NEWSBREAK One product is giving them nightmares, and it is not even a new invention, having been part of GI food rations in World War II—powdered eggs.

Egg powder has become a major concern among poultry raisers because processed food manufacturers—like mayonnaise makers Kraft and CFC and burger patty makers like McDonald’s and RFM—have found a way to use it in their recipes. Kraft and CFC—whose brands include Lady’s Choice—are already using imported powdered eggs, instead of locally produced fresh eggs, in making mayonnaise.

Egg powder has a longer shelf life and is easier to handle. One need not worry about breaking shells. Making matters worse, producers from the United States, where many of the current imports come from, spend only about PI per egg to produce the powdered product. In contrast, a local egg producer spends around P2.69 to produce one raw egg. And if they venture into making powdered eggs, local producers would have to invest millions to buy the necessary equipment abroad.

It is difficult for the local industry to compete, said Dimayuga, because farm inputs are more expensive here than abroad. Corn, for instance, costs P8.60 per kilogram here. In the US, its cost is the equivalent of only P2.50. Local soya costs P14 per kilogram; in the US, only P6. Chemical imports like vaccines are all imported. On top of these, interest on loans here is higher than it is abroad.

Powdered egg imports have been increasing. From 270,983 kilograms in year 2000, the figure went up to 385,544 kilograms last year. At present, only institutional consumers like those in food processing, hotels, airlines and some fast-food chains are using these products. That constitutes only 10 percent of the local egg market, with 90 percent going to household consumption. But with better packaging and aggressive promotions, Filipinos may eventually learn to cook omelette from out of the box or sachet and not from the shell, said Dimayuga.

Clock Is Ticking

Players in the egg industry have not been idle. A couple of years ago, they organized the National Federation of Egg Producers, or the Egg Board. Last year, the Egg Board, along with the Department of Agriculture, came out with commercials featuring TV celebrity Regine Tolentino to promote egg consumption among Filipinos. Dimayuga, vice president of the Egg Board, said Filipinos consume an average of only 45 eggs each a year, compared with the Americans’ average of 300 eggs.

Programs of the Department of Agriculture to lower the cost of corn by improving production could help the egg industry, said Pedro Ocampo, the director for livestocks. One such program is corn disease eradication, to be launched soon.

But the clock is ticking. Based on the country’s trade commitments, tariff on agricultural byproducts like powdered eggs will be reduced to five percent by next year.

If that happens, local producers will likely be wiped out, warned Dimayuga. “I would not worry much about the producers because many of them have probably recovered their capital. I do not worry about myself because all my children have already finished their studies. But those who depend on my business for a living—what will happen to them?”

But poultry raisers need not despair. Perhaps, they can rely on traditional culinary practices, and preferences, to maintain their hold on the market. After all, can one have poached egg from powder? Or fried powdered egg sunny-side up? And can anyone make balut out of powdered eggs?

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