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February 19, 2004   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
February 19, 2004

MONTGOMERY, Ala.-- Alabama shoppers earned enough money during the first 37 days of 2004 to pay their food bills for the entire year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In contrast, it will take an average family 107 days to pay their local, state and federal taxes for 2004.

Despite recent increases in beef, pork and egg prices, these figures show the United States continues to enjoy an abundant and affordable food supply. In fact, just three decades ago, Americans had to work about 50 days--or two weeks longer--to earn enough to purchase their food for a year.

In Alabama, food prices retreated 2.4 percent in February after increasing 2 percent last month. According to the Alabama Farmers Federation's monthly food price survey, the average cost of 20 basic market basket items was $41.78 this month, down $1.01 from January but up $3.91 from a year ago.

At the meat counter, beef was a good buy in February as prices dropped 6.1 percent after jumping 7.5 percent last month. T-bone steaks averaged $7.77 a pound, down 36 cents, and ground beef was 16 cents cheaper at $1.86 a pound. Pork prices, however, were mixed as pork chops fell 20 cents to $3.06 a pound, while bacon was 9 cents higher at $3.04 a pound. Whole fryers were a bargain at 96 cents a pound, up a penny, and chicken breasts were up 4 cents to $1.80 a pound.

The biggest surprise for most shoppers recently, however, has been the price of eggs, which has increased 50 percent since this time last year. According to reports filed by volunteer shoppers across the state, eggs averaged $1.48 a dozen in February, up 13 cents from last month and up 51 cents from a year ago. Experts say the popularity of low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets and stricter environmental guidelines have increased demand and cut production, resulting in higher prices.

On the produce aisle, shoppers enjoyed better prices this month as tomatoes dropped 18 cents to $1.49 a pound. Lettuce also was cheaper at $1.13 a head, down 13 cents, but red potatoes were up a nickel to 68 cents a pound.

In the dairy case, prices were mixed with a half-gallon of ice cream ringing in at $2.68, down 14 cents, while butter was up 18 cents to $2.43 a pound. Milk was down 7 cents to $1.83 a half-gallon.

Regional reports collected throughout the state Feb. 1-7 showed the market basket averaged $39.79 in northwest Alabama, $41.73 in the central counties, $42.21 in the northeast corner of the state and $43.14 in south Alabama.

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