The cost of eggs soared around the world last year after bird flu wiped out millions of chickens and the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine sent energy and animal feed prices soaring.
In the United States, egg prices far outpaced the increase in other supermarket items, rising nearly 60% in the 12 months to December compared with a year earlier. In Japan, wholesale prices reached a record high.
In New Zealand, which consumes more eggs per person than most countries, the squeeze has been exacerbated by a change in farm regulations. And rising costs have sparked a frenzy, with people buying chickens online to secure their own supplies of the pantry staple.
On Tuesday (17), the popular local auction site trade me I told CNN that searches for chickens and related equipment to care for them are up 190% so far this month compared to the same period last month.
“Since the beginning of January, we’ve seen more than 65,000 searches for chickens and other chicken-related items such as feeders, chicken coops and food,” said Millie Silvester, a spokeswoman for the company.
The shortage has also caused a particularly acute headache for the country’s bakers.
“The whole public is now trying to buy chickens for the house because they can’t get eggs,” said Ron van Til, who owns a bakery near the city of Christchurch, who has had to adjust the way he makes his cakes and muffins.
Van Til said his sister was selling “four young chickens” at auction through Trade Me, fetching more than double the normal price.
The trend has led animal welfare advocates to warn against impulse purchases.
“Chickens live a long time,” said Gabby Clezy, CEO of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in New Zealand. “They live eight to 10 years, sometimes even longer, depending on the breed.”
Clezy also noted that hens don’t produce eggs all their lives and their laying habits depend on factors such as age and local climate.
“So if people are buying chickens just because [pensam] that will have a permanent supply of eggs, this is not the case,” she said. “We are asking people to consider them as companion animals, which they are.”
Trade Me has also urged customers on its online marketplace to think before making any purchases.
“It is important that our members are aware of the responsibilities of owning chickens and are well prepared to care for them,” Silvester said in a statement.
Health experts are also evaluating. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone who decides to install a backyard chicken coop should take special care when handling the birds and their eggs, primarily because of the risk of germs associated with salmonella.
New Zealand’s egg shortage is linked to a long-awaited change to the farm bill, which came into effect on January 1 of this year.
The law prohibits the production of eggs from hens kept in conventional cages or in “battery cages” – typically cramped metal spaces that do not provide adequate welfare for the hens, according to the SPCA.
That is why, in 2012, the government announced a ban on such facilities.
But “a 10-year transition period from conventional cages has been introduced to allow egg producers to change farming practices,” Peter Hyde, representative of the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries, told the CNN note, when asked about the current shortage.
“Egg producers were given the option to move to colony cages, barns and free-range rearing systems,” added Hyde, Acting National Animal Welfare and Compliance Manager for Animal Identification and Tracing at the ministry.
Hyde said that over the past 18 months, the ministry “has been in regular contact with operators and has visited farms that needed to transition”.
Even over the long term, however, the ban has caused supply problems, according to some companies.
Foodstuffs, a New Zealand supermarket chain, recently imposed temporary limits on how many eggs each customer can buy.
“It’s a significant change for the egg supply industry,” said Emma Wooster, the company’s head of public relations. “We are working with egg suppliers to increase our offering in other types of eggs.”
Countdown, another major grocery retailer, said that while it currently has no limits on egg sales, it would encourage customers to “buy only what they need” to ensure there is enough supply for everyone.
Other companies were forced to change things. Van Til, the bakery’s owner, said his staff swapped fresh eggs in recipes for alternative ingredients.
The long-time owner of Rangiora Bakery has seen wholesale prices for fresh eggs soar by around 50% compared to four months ago, prompting him to buy more dried eggs.
Van Til also pointed to changes at other local restaurants, saying that some cafes had started to drop certain dishes from their menus, so “instead of eating five breakfast items [com] eggs, you can only have two.”
“And we expect the customer to buy pancakes or waffles,” he added. “Or any other deals you come up with.”
Source: CNN Brasil
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