As of 2012, EU law requires all eggs to be hatched by hens kept in free-range barns or “enriched” cages. This move effectively outlaws battery cages. The UK even spent £400 million to meet the new standards.
According to the British Hen Welfare Trust, the new cages “can hold up to 90 birds, which will have space to spread their wings, perch and be able to go from one end of the cage to the other. The cage will now have to provide 750 square centimetres of space for each bird.”
However, due to these measures production has dropped and prices have skyrocketed. On the EU wholesale market, the price of eggs has nearly quadrupled over the past week. There has been a price increase of 70 percent for processed liquid and powdered eggs. Food manufacturers are also not permitted to get their eggs from non-compliant countries, leaving a huge supply gap and subsequent price hike. Baked goods containing eggs are also rumored to become more expensive in the coming weeks. Indeed, every food product that uses eggs will also get expensive.
The Guardian reports that there is wide-spread shortage as well as panic among manufacturers. One food distributor told the newspaper that, “We can see businesses going bust very quickly unless something is done about this soon. We’ve never seen anything like this. Commodity prices for things such as wheat and sugar go up and down, but this is different.”
By the end of this year, experts predict that the amount of eggs produced in Britain will decrease by 5 percent. In many parts of Europe, small bakers that rely on eggs and egg derivatives might be forced to shut down. In France, 10 percent of their egg production has been lost, which equals a staggering 21 million eggs a week. Many egg producers have been unable to absorb the costs of buying pens. In Spain, a large number of chickens have had to be slaughtered as many opted to leave the market. This has made the country go from net exporter to net importer of eggs almost overnight.
Although supermarkets have not yet increased the price of eggs, small egg producers are operating at a loss. The average UK shopper is entirely unaware of the looming egg crisis. According to the Farmers Weekly, increases in costs, particularly feed, means most free-range producers are losing money already. They say that, “unless the price for eggs paid to free-range egg farmers increases immediately and significantly, it is a sad fact that British consumers will go short of British free-range eggs.”
Although the move of doing away with battery cages has been widely applauded by animal activists, the fact that it wasn’t phased in has created many problems. In this economic climate, sustainable measures should be introduced gradually with support from the government. Unfortunately since this wasn’t done, small farmers and bakers are the ones that are the hardest hit and it might take a whole industry a few years to recover.
Image Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©