Four of the world’s biggest food firms have accused US egg producers of operating a price-fixing cartel.

Kraft Foods, Kellogg, General Mills and Nestle filed a lawsuit against egg producers including the United Egg Producers (UEP), Cal-Maine and Michael Foods on Monday (12 December).

They claim the egg producers have conspired to keep prices artifically high since at least 1999.

The lawsuit, which was filed with the District Court for the Northern district of Illinois stated that: “Starting in at least 1999 and continuing through at least 2008, Defendants unlawfully agreed to and did engage in a conspiracy to control supply and artificially maintain and increase the price of eggs.

“As direct purchasers of eggs, plaintiffs were injured by defendants’ per se unlawful agreements to control supply and artificially maintain and increase the price of eggs.”

The filing added: “During the relevant conspiracy period, Defendants unlawfully agreed to and did implement their conspiracy to control supply and artificially maintain and increase the price of eggs through a series of collective actions, including short-term measures, the UEP Certified Guidelines, and coordinated, large-scale exports.”

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Kraft said the United Egg Producers (UEP) and several of its member companies violated the antitrust laws.

A spokeserson for Kraft said: “Kraft Foods, General Mills, Kellogg, Nestle USA, and other egg purchasers suffered damages because they paid higher prices than they would have if it weren’t for the conspiracy. As a result, we have filed a lawsuit against UEP and several of its members. We have collectively filed a lawsuit to recover the substantial overcharges we paid.”

One of the defendants, Cal-Maine, confirmed that the lawsuit has been filed. A spokeserson for Cal-Maine said it is similar to other litigation that has been filed against the egg industry over the last three years but did not comment further.