The Great Egg Shortage of 2022

As decades go, the 2020’s are not off to a good start.  Between the pestilence of the pandemic and war in Ukraine, we’re not even a third of the way into the decade before we can scratch two horsemen off our apocalypse bingo card.  Now, not even a day in 2023 and a third pale rider has shown up in the shape of famine, at least of eggs in the UK. Read more about the Great Egg Shortage of 2022 below…

Yes – eggs, that popular breakfast staple and an essential ingredient in the traditional English Breakfast (and incidentally, Scottish, Irish and Welsh as well) are now in worrisomely poor supply.  So much so that supermarkets across the UK are having to ration them, or in some cases have stopped selling them completely.   Restaurants across the UK are choosing to remove them from their menu for the time being and given how many products use eggs as an ingredient the knock-on effect across the British food industry has the potential to be immense.

It’s Flu, but for Birds

Given everything that is going on at the moment, it is a tough time all around.  But poultry farmers have the additional difficulty of a particularly virulent outbreak of Bird Flu that is attacking flocks of poultry around the country.  Bird Flu is a type of influenza that, like human flu spreads rapidly amongst the bird population.

The current outbreak is the largest in UK history with over 200 reported cases since October 2021.   These cases are of what is called a “high path” strain, a variant of the virus that is especially infectious and deadly to animals, with some strains having a near 100% mortality rate.  It can do this extremely quickly with in some cases otherwise healthy birds dying within 24 hours of infection.

Obviously, this can result in the eradication of entire flocks quickly, causing devastation to a farmer’s egg-producing ability.  For this reason, the UK Government, as of the 3rd of November mandated that all bird keepers must keep their birds housed during the current outbreak of avian influenza

The Threat to People

The bigger worry that concerns virologists are whether or not a dangerous variant of Bird Flu arises that jumps from birds to humans.  Recent experiences with COVID-19 and Ebola have provided painful lessons in what can happen when a virus manages to make humans its next meal.

Fortunately, Avian influenza has so far proven to be quite bad at infecting humans.  However, the potential remains and already Bird Flu has crossed into humans in small numbers in Russia and China.

The biggest concern is that a dangerous and infectious variant arises that passes easily between humans and birds Given the huge numbers of poultry in the UK just on farms alone that it would be an outbreak that would rapidly become impossible to control. It would spread not just between people and infected birds but also via wild avians, most of which are surprisingly resistant to Influenza strains and can travel rapidly across countries and across national borders.

Supply and Demand

Globally, approximately 97 million birds globally have died as a result of the current bird flu outbreak, with 3.8 million in the UK alone.  This tragedy in animal lives is also highly damaging to flocks and egg production.  Furthermore, the Government mandate to keep birds indoors means extra costs must be taken on by producers in order to house animals that previously were not required to be in such conditions.

The extra cost of heating and sheltering flocks in order to protect them is expensive enough but this comes against the backdrop of the greatest cost of living crisis in living memory.  As a result, the cost of producing eggs has skyrocketed.  This has led to disputes between farmers and buyers such as supermarkets as buyers are increasingly accused of refusing to pay enough to cover the cost of producing eggs

Coincidentally, small farmers who sell direct to the public are seeing a bumper rise in sales as desperate egg lovers search for a supplier for their ovoid fix.  Given that the cost of living crisis continues with no end in sight, it may well be prudent for those who can’t bare life without their eggs to invest and start a flock of their own.




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