The cost of eggs has skyrocketed around the world in the past year as bird flu decimated chicken herds and the fallout from the war between Russia and Ukraine have pushed up energy and feed prices.
In the United States, egg prices far outpaced the increase in other groceries, climbing nearly 60% in the 12 months to December from a year earlier. In Japan, wholesale prices hit a record high.
In New Zealand, which consumes more eggs per person than most countries, the pressure has been exacerbated by a change in agricultural regulations. And rising costs have sparked a frenzy, with people hunting chickens online so they can secure their own staple food supplies.
On Tuesday, popular local auction site Trade Me told CNN that searches for chickens and equipment related to their care have increased 190% so far this month, compared to the same period a year ago. one month old.
“Since early January, we’ve seen over 65,000 searches for chickens and other chicken-related items, such as feeders, coops and food,” said company spokeswoman Millie Silvester.
The shortage has also caused a particularly acute headache for the country’s bakers.
“All the public are now trying to buy chickens for the house because they can’t get eggs,” said Ron van Til, owner of a bakery near the city of Christchurch, who had to adjust his way of making his cakes and muffins.
Van Til said his sister was selling “four new chickens” at auction through Trade Me, fetching more than double the usual price.
This trend has prompted animal welfare advocates to warn against impulse buying.
“Chickens are long-lived,” said Gabby Clezy, CEO of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in New Zealand. “They live eight to 10 years, sometimes even longer depending on the breed.”
Clezy also noted that hens do not produce eggs all their lives and that their laying habits depend on factors such as their age and the local climate.
“So if people are buying chickens just because [they think] they’ll have a permanent supply of eggs, that’s just not the case,” she said. “We’re asking people to consider them pets, which they are.”
Trade Me also urged customers on its marketplace to think carefully about any purchases.
“It is important that our members are aware of the responsibilities that come with owning chickens and are well prepared to care for them,” Silvester said in a statement.
Health experts are also involved. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone enrolling in a backyard chicken coop should take extra care when handling the animals and their eggs, especially because of the risk of associated germs. to salmonella.
New Zealand’s egg shortage is linked to a long-awaited change to the Farm Act, which came into force on January 1 this year.
According to the SPCA, the law prohibits the production of eggs from hens raised in conventional cages or “battery cages”, typically cramped metal spaces that do not provide adequate welfare for hens.
That is why in 2012 the government announced a ban on such facilities.
But “a 10-year transition period away from conventional cages has been introduced, to give egg farmers time to change their farming practices,” Peter Hyde, a representative from New Zealand’s Department of Primary Industries, told CNN in a statement, asked about the current shortage. .
“Egg farmers had the option to move to colony cages, barns and free-range systems,” added Hyde, acting national manager for the Department of Animal Welfare and National Identification Compliance. and animal tracing.
Hyde said that over the past 18 months the ministry had “been in regular contact with operators and visited farms due to make the transition”.
Even with the long delay, however, the ban has caused an overnight supply, some companies say.
Foodstuffs, a New Zealand supermarket chain, recently imposed temporary limits on the number of eggs each customer can purchase.
“This is a significant change for the egg supply industry,” Emma Wooster, the company’s public relations manager, told CNN in a statement. “We are working with egg suppliers to increase our offering in other egg types.”
Countdown, another major grocery retailer, said while it currently has no limits on egg sales, it would encourage customers to “only buy what they need” to ensure a healthy diet. sufficient supply for everyone.
Other companies have been forced to change things.
Van Til, the owner of the bakery, said his team replaced fresh eggs in recipes with alternative ingredients.
The long-time owner of Rangiora Bakery has seen wholesale prices for fresh eggs rise by around 50% from four months ago, prompting him to buy more dried eggs instead.
Van Til also pointed to changes at other local restaurants, saying some cafes had started removing certain dishes from their menus, so “instead of having five dishes for breakfast [with] eggs, you may only have two.
“And the customer will hopefully have pancakes or waffles,” he added. “Or whatever other offers you have.”