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Shoppers scramble for eggs as shelves go empty at supermarkets

 

The Reason: Battery-caged hens banned; a decision taken in 2013

Venkat Raman
Auckland, January 7, 2023

A two-tray limit per customer at some retail stores, fast-emptying shelves at supermarkets and a sharp rise in the price of egg-laying chicken are among the challenges confronting homes, bakeries, restaurants and food outlets throughout New Zealand.

A ban on battery-caged hens, which was mooted in 2013, came into effect at the end of 2022 and some say that the stakeholders have had enough time to adapt but have not done so. The result is the ongoing shortage, which is causing havoc across the food sector.

Shortage begins to hurt

Egg trays in supermarkets are disappearing faster than they can be replenished, while commercial bakers who depend on eggs for almost everything that they bake are feeling the pinch of a rise in the wholesale price of the ingredient.

The price of egg-laying chicken is anywhere between $25 and $50 on TradeMe and according to its spokesperson Ruby Topzand, the number of searches for chicken on its website has risen to more than 21,400, up from 9300 the previous week.

Radio New Zealand (RNZ) has quoted Egg Producers Federation Executive Director Michael Brooks explaining the reasons for the current shortage of eggs.

Chickens are out of their cages doing well but not the market (Pexels Photo via RNZ)

“More than 75% of chicken farmers have had to change their farming methods or their career because of the ban. Supermarkets have refused to accept colony cage eggs. This decision, along with that of the end of the cage system, the Covid-19 pandemic and the rising cost of grain because of the Ukraine war have all come together. These factors have led to a drop of about 700,000 hens in the commercial flock,” he said.

RNZ has also quoted the SPCA as having warned people in 2021 from jumping into chicken ownership and being well informed of the time, resources and environment that it envisaged.

“Chickens need a safe and enriching environment, including shelter, nest boxes, a dust-bathing area and access to a safe outdoor area where they can exercise, scratch and forage. They need company and ideally, should be kept in a flock of at least three,” the SPCA said.

 

(Video Courtesy: egginfo.org.nz)

About the ban

In 2012, National Party’s Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy committed to banning battery chicken cages but a year later, agreed to phase out the ban to allow the industry to make the necessary changes over time.

In a press statement issued on December 13, 2013, Mr Guy said that battery cages will be gone by 2022 but amended the transition by two years.

“Cages installed before 31 December 1999 must now be replaced by 31  December 2018 (previously 2016) and cages installed before 31 December 2001 must now be replaced by 31 December 2020 (previously 2018). The amendments have been made after advice from the independent National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee,” he had said.

According to the government plan, implemented after public consultation, and on the advice of the National Animal Advisory Committee, conventional cages were to be phased out by December 31 2022.  About 10% of the national flock are in conventional cages, 33% in colonies, 24% in barns and 33% free-range compared to 67.1% in current cages in December 2016 and 86% in 2012.

The Guardian said in a report that Battery cages are broadly considered to be detrimental to the health and well-being of the birds, which cannot exercise natural behaviour and are exposed to infection and disease because of the cramped conditions.

“Most of Europe, including the UK, banned the use of battery cages in 2012; Mexico, Israel and Canada have also banned battery cages. Australia announced in August it would phase out the cages by 2036,” the report said.

Free Range Eggs are stated to be healthier than the rest (Veggie Fresh Photo)

About Egg Farming in New Zealand

New Zealand has one of the most ideal egg farming environments in the world, being free from many of the pests and disease strains that other countries experience, and it leads the world in many areas of farm practice and animal welfare.

According to the Egg Producers Federation of New Zealand,  there are 157 egg farms throughout the country. The retail market generates more than $286 million every year and up to 85% of commercially farmed eggs are sold as Table Eggs and the balance is used in the baking and catering industries. A small amount of eggs is exported to the Pacific Island countries, the Oceania region, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The first hens were brought to New Zealand by Captain James Cook in 1773, and over the centuries eggs are one of the most important sources of food, providing protein and nutrients at an affordable price to a nation of egg-lovers.

A layer hen gives about 300 eggs per year. New Zealand produces one billion eggs annually.

An average New Zealander consumes 237 eggs per year (as of June 30 2021), more than double what accounted for in the early 20th century when most people relied on backyard coops and small free-range operations. As the demand for eggs has grown, farming methods have had to evolve and expand to meet the nation’s need for one billion eggs per year.

Retail sales of eggs are worth upwards of $286 million and up to 85% of commercially farmed eggs are sold as ‘table eggs’, with the remainder used in the baking and catering industries. New Zealand also has a small but increasing export base to the Pacific Islands and Oceania region, PNG, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Egg Shortage: Empty shelves and limits per customer at some supermarkets (RNZ Photo by Janice Swanwick)

Supermarket Chain’s Plan

Last year, the Stuff Group reported that the Countdown chain of supermarkets had already removed cage-laid eggs from five stores pushing towards its goal of being completely cage-free by 2025.

Foodstuffs, which owns Pak N Save, New World and Four Square in addition to retail brands such as Pams, Pams Finest and Value, said that it would no not accept colony eggs from 2027.

Food Stuffs Spokesperson Emma Wooster agreed that the ban will herald a significant change.

“Some of our stores have a temporary limit on eggs to support the transition and ensure that customers get a fair share when they shop. As we phase out caged eggs from our stores, we will work with the egg industry to increase our offer in colony, barn and free-range eggs. We are committed to working closely with government and New Zealand egg suppliers to meet our target to become fully cage-free by 2027,” she said.

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