Eggs in boxHeiko Wolfraum/DPA/Press Association Images

There has apparently been a run on eggs in the UK, with a threat of shortages in UK supermarkets. There's a real risk of a scramble in the aisles very soon. This isn't some sort of Easter joke, neither is it the result of some over-enthusiastic pancaking.

It's a serious risk, cased by new EU regulations. So what's going on?

The rules

The regulations in question refer to a ban on traditional cages for hens in the egg-laying business. As of January, the cages had to have an expensive upgrade in order to ensure the hens have a better quality of life.

And while animal rights campaigners have something to celebrate, the reaction of producers is a little alarming. Some have refused to fork out on the upgrade and have closed down that part of their business. As a result, for example, according to the Guardian, Spain has gone from being an exporter of eggs to an importer of them.


Prices soar

As a result, the wholesale price of eggs has quadrupled. To add insult to injury, the cost of free range eggs is also on the march as the price of feed has risen.

These changes are yet to affect the price of eggs in the supermarkets, which tend to have fixed prices for fixed periods. But rather than being a boon for consumers, this could work against us in three ways.

Risk of shortages

First there's a real chance of business failure, as the egg producers face increased costs but cannot charge the supermarkets any more. If the businesses go under - or switch to something more profitable - it could lead to shortages on the shelves.

These shortages are going to be exacerbated by the fact that we tend to import around a fifth of the eggs we consume. EU companies aren't allowed to source their eggs from countries that don't comply with the rules, which means there's a real risk of shortages there too.

Standards drop

Second, the British Egg Industry Council also warns that there's a danger that producers will resort to buying eggs from countries and farms that do not meet the legal requirements, which sadly means we could end up eating eggs produced in worse conditions than the traditional battery farms.

Third, when the contracts are renewed there will be a pent-up inflationary effect, which means eggs are set to increase dramatically in price. The wholesale price of eggs has doubled in a year, so we could see a similar sort of rise on the shelves. Likewise, the cost of producing free range eggs has increased by around 20p a dozen, which could get passed on.

And this doesn't just affect the price of eggs of course. Everything they go into, from pasta to cake is going to be affected, so we could see the cost of shopping increase across the board.



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