UK egg shortage will last beyond Christmas, industry warns | Food industry
Egg shortages and rationing in the UK are set to last beyond Christmas, an industry body has warned, as the poultry industry grapples with spiraling costs and its worst episode of Avian Flu.
Lidl limits customers to three boxes of eggs each, while Asda limits purchases to two boxes per shopper.
Tesco is also considering rationing eggs, after bird flu led to shortages on some supermarket shelves. Other supermarkets source their eggs from abroad, notably in Italy.
The British Free Range Egg Producers Association said culling linked to bird flu had cost 750,000 laying hens since October 1 alone, compared with 1.8 million for the whole of last year.
BFREPA argues that egg shortages are also the result of retailers not paying a “sustainable price” to farmers, whose hen feed costs have risen by at least 50% since the invasion. Ukraine by Russia, while fuel bills soared by 40%.
“It’s very difficult to predict, but we can definitely see [shortages] until after Christmas,” a spokesperson said, adding that a third of its members had cut production or left the industry because they were unable to cover their costs.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Supermarkets source their vast majority from the UK and know they have to pay a sustainable price to egg farmers, but are limited by the additional cost they can pass on to consumers during a cost of living crisis.
Andrew Joret, chairman of the British Egg Industry Council, said higher production costs were mainly to blame for pressure on egg supplies, as well as hens lost to bird flu and high consumer demand. , eggs being considered a relatively inexpensive source of protein. .
“While we expect supply to return to normal once cost pressures ease, we don’t know when that will happen, and egg packers and producers continue to lose business. ‘silver. We’re doing everything we can to make sure eggs are on the shelves as the industry works with retailers so they can get back on their feet as quickly as possible. »
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said on Thursday there were still nearly 40 million laying hens in the UK and said she was confident ‘we can overcome this short-term supply difficulty’ .
The latest outbreak of bird flu, which lasted more than a year, has raised fears of a long-term crisis in the UK poultry and egg industry, and that birds will be stuck indoors for long periods every year – a serious threat to the freedom- manufacturing range.
Farmers of eggs and free-range poultry have had to bring their animals indoors since November 7 and keep them away from wild birds to reduce the spread of the highly contagious virus. This is the government’s fourth such housing order, after similar orders were issued in 2017, 2020 and 2021, and lasted up to 22 weeks.
The restrictions are designed to reduce the risk posed by migratory birds carrying the virus during the winter months, although last winter’s outbreak continued into spring and summer.
Animal charities fear welfare standards will be affected by housing measures. Jane Howorth, who founded the British Hen Welfare Trust in 2005, said: “It’s a safe bet there will be some overcrowding. It’s a real concern.
“These birds are bred to enjoy the outdoors and when you change their behavior you immediately increase the stress level. Farmers really have their work cut out… Some farmers we have been working with for years have thrown in the towel and are not replacing their herds.
Howorth added: “Bird flu is now endemic in wild birds and it is clearly a devastating problem for farmers and birds. It will happen year after year. It won’t just be a shortage of turkeys at Christmas. It’s bigger than that.
She said the government’s strategy was “clearly not working” and that global collaboration and preventive action was needed, calling for educational measures to improve hygiene standards everywhere, including wet markets in some Asian countries. .
Connor Jackson, founder of Open Cages UK, said current measures only address the symptoms, not the underlying causes of the poultry industry’s vulnerability. He said viruses spread much faster through battery farm animals.
Robert Gooch, Managing Director of BFREPA, said: “Egg farmers have been processing many housing orders due to bird flu and they are ensuring that the welfare of the hens is always the number one priority. ” They put soccer balls and tree branches inside the sheds to stimulate the chickens used to being outdoors.
The RSPCA, the UK’s largest animal welfare charity, said it was “concerned about the long-term impact this will have on the welfare of poultry and the stress on birds now that they must be housed indoors, which could lead to higher levels of feather pecking and feather choking.” ”.
“RSPCA insured [the charity’s farm animal branch] will contact farmers and retailers to explore ways to address this issue in the future and research is underway into possible vaccinations for poultry.
Current bird flu vaccines protect birds from serious illness and death, but cannot stop the spread of the virus and vaccination is not permitted in the UK.