SEOUL (Reuters) - The first batch of fresh eggs from the United States will arrive in South Korea on Saturday to ease the country's egg shortage caused by its worst-ever bird flu epidemic, industry sources and an agriculture ministry official said on Wednesday.
South Korea's two major airliners -- Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, will each carry 100 tonnes of eggs, for a total of 2.98 million, said two industry sources with knowledge of the matter. Spokesman from both airlines confirmed the shipments.
These are the first fresh egg imports from the U.S. to South Korea and the first fresh eggs imports since 1999.
The imported U.S. eggs will be distributed to grocery stores and supermarkets ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday season at the end of this month.
The shipment follows the announcement last week of measures to bring eggs to South Korea from overseas to alleviate a nationwide egg shortfall.
An additional 200 tonnes of eggs will be transported by two Korean Air aircraft sometime next week, one of the industry sources said.
He also said some Korean egg importers are seeking to bring eggs from Spain. Along with U.S., Korea has also finalised negotiations with Spain to clear egg imports, the agriculture ministry official, who declined to be named, said.
Since the first bird flu outbreak was confirmed in November last year, South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, culled a record of over 31 million farm birds, mainly egg-laying hens, that caused a sharp increase in egg prices.
The average retail price of 30 eggs was at 9,440 won ($7.90) on Wednesday, up nearly 74 percent since the first flu outbreak was confirmed on Nov. 18, according to state-run Korea Agro-Fisheries.
Reporting By Jane Chung; Editing by Christian Schmollinger