Free-range egg shortage set to increase prices

August 5, 2017

The price of eggs are set to increase due to shortages which are expected in early 2017. This is due to an outbreak of the H5N8 strain of bird flu which has been found at major producers in Sweden, Italy and Hungary, as well as farms in Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Carmarthenshire and North Yorkshire in the UK.

This outbreak has not only resulted in the culling of many chickens, but has prompted a Government order resulting in poultry being kept indoors to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. This means chickens usually kept in fields and producing ‘free-range’ eggs are currently being kept within barns. Further national measures by authorities have prohibited the export movement of poultry.

Under EU rules, products from poultry housed within barns for less than 12 weeks can continue to be marketed as free-range, however, this 12 week period is set to come to an end on 28th February 2017. It is expected that the virus is still not contained, which will force farmers to continue to keep the hens inside, and rename the eggs to a downgraded ‘barn produced’ rather than ‘free-range’. This relabelling with also affect egg based products, such as mayonnaise.

The British are the highest consumers of free-range eggs in Europe, with 56% of all sales of eggs in Britain coming from outdoor hens. This reduction in availability for free-range will affect the British consumer greatly.

The effect of the bird flu virus has already started to show. Egg production forecast in mainland Europe are expected to fall by 8% in the first quarter 2017. This fall in production will see a greater shortage of eggs due to the growing consumer demand, as seen by the increase in the sale of eggs in Europe rising to over 9% in the past year

This shortage in combination with rising consumer demand has resulted in egg prices in Europe to rise by 16% since November and are expected to continue to rise whilst this outbreak of bird flu remains.