British egg producers have warned that the UK could face serious egg shortages by Christmas if the government doesn’t intervene.
The warnings come as suppliers are dealing with a multitude of issues including an outbreak of bird flu and rising production costs caused by inflation and rocketing energy prices.
Shoppers at major supermarkets across the UK have been reporting shortages in recent weeks, with photos of empty shelves circulating online.
In one photo, a notice on an empty Sainsbury’s shelf in Dorking read: “We are currently experiencing supply issues across our fresh eggs range, we are working hard to resolve these and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
On Monday all poultry farmers were ordered to bring their flocks indoors in a bid to curb the increasing number of cases of avian flu, as the UK experiences its largest ever breakout.
Charles Mears, poultry farmer at Wood Farm in Wareseley, Cambridgeshire said that keeping flocks in enclosures can increase production costs for egg farmers and that is is no longer economically viable to farm hens.
He told The Telegraph : “It’s a genuine threat to the industry. We’ve been warning people for a long time, but people have been expecting cheap food, which just isn’t sustainable. It’s like watching a slow car crash.
“If the government does not intervene to support farmers, there will be no eggs by Christmas.”
He also said that as well as support from the government, farmers need to be paid 40p more per dozen eggs to just break even and claims that they have not benefited from the increasing egg prices in shops.
Ioan Humphreys, an egg farmer in Wales, also agreed with this and claimed that it wasn’t just avian flu causing egg shortages, but that supermarkets were refusing to pay farmers for their eggs.
In a video posted to Twitter, he said: “Supermarkets are gonna tell you that this is because of avian flu, which to be fair there has been a lot of cases of avian flu. But do you want to know the real reason why there’s an egg shortage? It’s because the supermarkets won’t pay the farmers for the eggs.”
Humphreys said that while supermarkets have upped egg prices for consumers, they haven’t filtered that price increase down to the farmers.
He added: “Our cost of producing these eggs has skyrocketed. Feed, electric, the price of new birds, that’s gone up, but our price of eggs has stayed the same. So we physically can’t afford to produce these eggs.”
He claimed that there has been 8 million less free range hens ordered for next year’s flocks, which means that there will be 8 million less eggs every single day.
The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) began calling for an increase on the price of eggs to trickle down to farmers back in March as they warned that the industry was on the brink of collapse.
BFREPA’s CEO Robert Gooch said: “This is not a false flag – the free range egg sector is in crisis and if something doesn’t change these farms will close and the people who run them will not have an income.
“This is a situation entirely out of farmers’ hands. The whole world can see that feed and energy prices have gone through the roof – that has consequences and we believe shoppers will understand the need for the egg price to increase on the shelves.”
While egg prices have now risen by about 45p since the start of the year, BFREPA claim that farmers are only receiving around 5p to 10p of that increase.
A spokesman said: “Egg producers have been hit with huge hikes in production costs. Feeding hens is now at least 50% more expensive than it was, and energy prices have soared in the same way that consumers have seen their domestic bills rise. Spending on fuel has grown by 30%, while labour and packaging also costs more.
“Many of our members are losing money on every egg laid, and our data shows that even those who are making a small profit do not see a long-term future.”
The British Egg Industry has said that the pressure on supply of eggs has been caused by hens lost as a result of avian flu, cost of production rises, a reduction in the number of colony hens, and strong demand from customers.
In a statement they said: “Supply and demand does fluctuate with eggs, but we expect availability to return to normal levels when cost pressures ease.
“In the meantime, the industry will continue to work closely with retailers to get eggs from the farm onto shelves as quickly as possible to ensure we are able to meet consumer demand for British Lion eggs, which we know is what consumers expect.”