U.S. customs officials are cracking down on egg smugglers.
With egg prices soaring in the U.S. over the last year, more Americans are crossing into Mexico to buy the food item and trying to sneak cartons of raw eggs along some areas of the southern border, including California and Texas.
"We are seeing an increase in people attempting to cross eggs from Juarez to El Paso because they are significantly less expensive in Mexico than the U.S.," U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Roger Maier told CBS MoneyWatch. "This is also occurring with added frequency at other Southwest border locations."
Jennifer De La O, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection field operations director in San Diego, said in a tweet this week that her office "has recently noticed an increase in the number of eggs intercepted at our ports." Failure to declare agricultural items while entering the U.S. can carry fines of up to $10,000, she added.
Federal law prohibits travelers from bringing certain agriculture products — including eggs, as well as live chickens and turkeys — into the U.S. "because they may carry plant pests and foreign animal diseases," according to customs rules. Eggs from Mexico have been banned from entering the U.S. since 2012, according to the USDA. Cooked eggs are allowable under USDA guidelines.
The number of incidents in which raw eggs were confiscated at U.S. borders jumped more than 100% during the final three months of 2022 compared to the same period a year ago, according to Border Report, an online news site focused on immigration issues. The price for a 30-count carton of eggs in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, is $3.40, according to Border Report.
Egg prices in the U.S. have surged to an average of $4.25 a dozen, up from roughly $1.79 a year ago, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The cost of processed eggs — used in liquid or powdered form in manufactured products including salad dressing, cake mix and chips — has also risen.
Those price increases are being driven by growing consumer demand along with a decrease in domestic egg supplies caused by an avian flu epidemic that has devastated U.S. poultry flocks.
Nearly 58 million birds have been infected with the disease, while more than 43 million egg-laying hens have been slaughtered, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making it the deadliest avian flu outbreak in American history. USDA officials are investigating what caused the outbreak.
People entering the U.S. must declare eggs at the border, Charles Payne, supervisory agriculture specialist at U.S. Customs in El Paso, Texas, told Border Report. A customs officer will still confiscate the eggs and have them destroyed, but will waive the penalty for the offender.
"We don't want to issue the penalties, but occasionally we have to," Payner told Border Report. "So if you declare what you've got, there won't be an issue."