An egg shortage in the United Kingdom has Britons scrambling to find the beloved food staple on store shelves.
The U.K. is dealing with a massive outbreak of avian flu and is seeing many cases on commercial farms, impacting egg supply and also raising concerns of chicken and turkey shortages for the holidays.
Canada is also dealing with bird flu cases, so are eggs at risk of running short?
“I don’t think Canadians should be concerned. I think there will be plenty of eggs for the holidays,” said Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.
“The big variable is the avian flu. We don’t know exactly how the flu will impact barns across the country.”
What’s going on in Britain?
As a result, grocers have imposed limits on how many eggs customers can buy to preserve inventory.
The British Retail Consortium told BBC News there were several factors influencing the egg market, including the avian flu, supply issues and production costs.
About 2.3 million birds have died or been culled since October, the BBC reported on Dec. 1, which could impact egg production if chickens are being culled too. The current bird flu outbreak is the largest on record in the U.K.
Avian influenza, sometimes called bird flu, is a virus that infects birds. Outbreaks in commercial bird facilities most often occur when migratory birds carrying the disease come into contact with poultry.
The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) told The Guardian on Nov. 17 that egg shortages are also due to retailers not paying a “sustainable price” to farmers. Their hen feed costs have shot up 50 per cent since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is a major global grain producer, and fuel bills have jumped 40 per cent, the outlet reported.
A BFREPA spokesperson told Reuters on Nov. 15 the industry is down 743,350 layers this season, as “a huge number of them are losing a significant amount of money and can’t afford to produce eggs anymore.”
A BFREPA spokesperson told The Guardian it was hard to predict how long the shortages would carry on, but they see them continuing into the Christmas holidays. The BBC reported that British Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said the government is confident the nation will get through the difficulty in the short term, as there are nearly “40 million egg-laying hens available.”
“There’s a lot of feuding going on right now in the U.K. In addition to that, you have the avian flu also impacting production and farms over in the U.K., which is actually the same thing in Canada. But the regime in the U.K. is much different,” Charlebois said.
“All farmers are left to figure things out on their own, whereas in Canada with our supply management regime, farmers are guaranteed a price no matter what. If the cost of production goes up, they’re properly compensated as a result. The system is very different, and as a country, we do have some autonomy when it comes to egg production.”
Is there an egg shortage in Canada?
Currently, there is no egg shortage in Canada, said Tim Lambert, CEO of Egg Farmers of Canada, in an emailed statement to Global News.
Canadian egg production happens across the country, allowing farmers to work together to maintain the domestic supply of eggs, he said.
If there is an avian flu outbreak impacting one region, egg production can be increased in other provinces to keep supply balanced and make up potential gaps.
Furthermore, he said, as Canadian eggs are typically produced on small family farms, there’s less of an impact of avian flu on the overall supply of eggs.
“However, it is important to note that avian influenza currently affects less than two per cent of the Canadian egg supply,” he said.
“For these reasons and more, there is no egg shortage in Canada, and we continue to work with our supply chain to navigate the natural demand cycle for eggs, which typically peaks during the November and December months of the year.”
The spread of avian flu has “been a concern,” this year, Charlebois said. Specifically in British Columbia, farmers in the Fraser Valley have been facing “intense disease pressure” from the avian flu in commercial farms that the agriculture minister says is concerning.
Avian flu outbreaks in Canada have had enormous economic tolls in the past. In 2004, 19 million poultry were culled as a result of outbreaks in B.C.
As of Nov. 30, 795,700 birds have been impacted by the avian flu, federal government data shows. In Canada, 4,215,100 birds have been impacted to date.
The avian flu and higher feed costs for farmers are being reflected in the price of products at Canadian grocery stores, Charlebois said.
“All of that inventory is not reaching the market, so obviously you’re seeing poultry prices go up and egg prices also are going up,” Charlebois said.
“They’ve increased by 15 or 16 per cent so far this year, and we’re expecting more increases down the road. But in terms of access, I don’t think Canadians should be concerned. They’ll be plenty of eggs at the store waiting for them.”
— with files from The Canadian Press