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Unavoidable or Lack of Planning? The Scrambled Messages UK Consumers Have Been Fed over Egg Rationing

The British Retail Consortium claims the shortages are the result of the disruption caused by a rise in cases of avian flu, and temporary limits have been introduced to ‘ensure availability.’ 

Sarah Jayne Smith

These days we take for granted being able to buy anything we want, especially when it comes to basic food staples. However, For the past few weeks, many supermarkets in the UK have been rationing eggs; but the reasons cited for this situation are unclear and contradictory. 

The British Retail Consortium claims the shortages are the result of the disruption caused by a rise in cases of avian flu, and temporary limits have been introduced to ‘ensure availability.’ 

Empty shelves in British supermarket chain, Asda. Credit: Sarah Jayne Smith

Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability at the Consortium, said: “While avian flu has disrupted the supply of some egg ranges, retailers are experts at managing supply chains and are working hard to minimize the impact on customers.  

“Some stores have introduced temporary limits on the number of boxes customers can buy to ensure availability for everyone.” 

However, the Farming Union of Wales (FUW) disagree and blames a lack of forward planning by the Government and retailers to curb the impact of the war in Ukraine, and the resultant energy crisis that has created these shortages.   

Bovan Brown Chicken. Credit: Sarah Jayne Smith

An FUW spokesperson said: “In light of the perceived egg shortages by UK supermarkets, it is evident that there has been a lack of forward planning and realisation of the impacts inflation rates, the war in Ukraine and the ongoing energy crisis would have on food availability. The FUW has raised concerns and lobbied for urgent action to uphold UK food security countless times with UK Government.  

“Avian Influenza has been a recurring winter infection that our poultry keepers continue to monitor, however, despite the hurdles these restrictions bring, particularly for free range producers, this is only one of many reasons why we are now facing shortages on supermarket shelves.” 

Farming Union of Wales

These sentiments were echoed by Ioan Humphreys, an egg farmer from Powys, who believes the shortages could have been prevented if supermarkets had heeded warnings from egg producers as ‘the price of food skyrocketed as soon as Russia stepped foot in Ukraine’ back in February. 

Mr Humphreys added: “My feed went from £250 per ton to £400, but the price of eggs didn’t follow that increase. We as the farmer’s just had to swallow that increase cost of production.” 

“The egg shortage most definitely could’ve been prevented. We egg producers and the British Free Range Egg Producer’s Association warned the supermarkets back in the beginning of the year that unless they upped their price to the farmers, then there’ll be an egg shortage over Christmas.” 

Welsh egg farmer Ion Humphreys
Welsh egg farmer Ioan Humphreys in front of a large supply of eggs. Credit: Ioan Humphreys

However, supermarket chain Co-op has decided not to limit the sale of eggs and has unveiled a multi-million-pound support package for British farmers. 

A Co-op spokesperson said: “We are all aware of the challenges farmers are facing, and the last 12 months have been some of the most turbulent suppliers have experienced. 
“Co-op has pledged to continue backing British egg suppliers and has committed a new multi-million-pound support package to bolster our help, which will see our total additional investment top £5.6M.
“We continue to work with our supplier and farmers to build an efficient, effective and sustainable British egg supply chain for now and the future.” 

This, however, is of little comfort to consumers, who, according to DEFRA, consume more than 12 billion eggs per year and remain bewildered by the ‘weird’ situation.  

Emily Brown, an office worker from Cardiff, commented: “It’s just so weird. You expect this time of year to maybe have trouble finding a nice Christmas tree or the latest children’s toy, but eggs? You don’t expect the egg shelves to be empty.” 

Written By

Photographer and postgraduate visual journalism student from South Wales, UK.

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