The UK has been hit by a wave of egg shortages due to struggles in the poultry industry, forcing supermarkets to ration supplies.
The shortages, caused by Britain’s bird flu outbreak and rising costs for farmers, have left supermarket shelves empty while shoppers rush to stock up on supply.
Several supermarkets have had to consider rationing the product, with Tesco the latest chain to join others in limiting supply.
Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, have followed Asda and Lidl in limiting the purchase of eggs. Customers are now limited to just three boxes of eggs at checkout.
Although the supermarket introduced restrictions, it claims to maintain a “good availability” of eggs and is simply taking precautions.
Asda’s restrictions have reduced customer purchases to two boxes per shopper, while Lidl allows up to three boxes per shopper.
Furthermore, a spokesperson for The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) estimated the shortages to last past Christmas. He said: “It’s very hard to predict but we can certainly see [shortages] lasting until after Christmas.”
BFREPA also claims that egg shortages are a consequence of big supermarkets and retailers paying unfair prices to farmers who should be receiving a “sustainable price.”
Farmers in the UK have been facing spiralling costs of production, and hen feed has shot up by at least double the price since the war in Ukraine. Wheat, a core component of hen feed, has massively risen in price, and along with the bird flu outbreak, farmers are struggling.
The avian outbreak is Britain’s largest ever and has resulted in government bodies advising farmers to keep their free-range poultry indoors. It has led to the death of more than 3.8 million birds in the UK, significantly affecting agriculture and the environment. Experts have also predicted a negative impact on the number of Christmas turkeys available.
Since 7 November, poultry producers have been told to keep their animals away from wild birds and indoors to reduce the virus’s spread. This is not the first time the government have implemented such regulations, with similar housing orders in 2017, 2020 and 2021.
However, some animal charities fear of the conditions the birds will be subjected to.
The RSPCA, the UK’s largest animal welfare charity, said it was “concerned about the long-term impact this will have on poultry welfare and the stress caused to birds now they must be housed indoors which could lead to higher levels of feather pecking and smothering”.
Jane Howorth, founder of the British Hen Welfare Trust said: “There’s highly likely to be some overcrowding. It’s a real concern.
“These birds are reared to enjoy ranging outside and when you change their pattern of behaviour, you immediately increase stress levels.”
Ms Howorth continued: “Avian flu is now endemic in wild birds and it’s clearly a devastating issue for farmers and birds.”
Although the effects are taking their toll on the poultry industry, the director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Andrew Opie insisted customers will not be as affected.
He said: “While avian flu has disrupted the supply of some egg ranges, retailers are experts at managing supply chains and are working hard to minimise impact on customers.”