As previously reported, the war in Ukraine, Brexit, continued supply chain disruption, tight labour market, rising energy and fuel costs have pushed the overall inflation rate to its highest level in 41 years. Consequently, food price inflation reached 16.2% last month, with the cost of basics such as milk, eggs, and cheese continuing to increase.
The bird flu outbreak continues to impact the egg and poultry market, and of course the supply of British turkey is now being impacted as demand has increased ready for the festive season...
Eggs and poultry - Bird Flu update
Most recent numbers suggest that there are more than 120 million broilers (chickens bred and raised specifically for meat production) in Britain, around 15 million hens for livestock laying, and several million turkeys and ducks - plus another estimated 2.5m pet species. According to the British Free Range Egg Producers Association, bird flu has hit 750,000 hens since 1 October alone, this is compared to a total of 1.8 million cases across the whole of 2021.
Egg supply continues to be scarce with many empty supermarket shelves. Asda, Tesco and Lidl have introduced rationing, limiting shoppers in some stores to maximum purchases of two or three boxes at a time. Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s has begun importing eggs from Italy, and some outlets are looking to source them from Poland and Spain.
To ensure there is “much-needed support” for egg producers, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has urged the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to look into whether a declaration should be made under the Agriculture Act 2020.
The situation is reportedly being monitored, the Government has said. It also insisted that the UK's food supply chain is “resilient” and that overall no “significant impact” is expected.
A Defra spokesperson said:
“We understand the difficulties that rising costs combined with the bird flu outbreak are causing for farmers and we are working with industry to monitor the egg market.
The UK’s food supply chain is resilient – there are 38 million laying hens across the country and we are not expecting any significant impact to the overall supply."
A declaration under section 20 of the Agriculture Act “would enable Defra to use its statutory powers to provide much-needed support to egg producers whose livelihoods are under threat," the NFU commented.
The union’s president Minette Batters said it is “critical” that the Government acts now to give producers “the confidence they need”. She said:
“There are a huge range of issues facing the poultry sector, in particular within the egg supply chain, which have built up over months and which we have been warning of for some time. Energy price inflation and supply chain disruption have added to the worst outbreak in Avian Influenza yet. However, these pressures alone cannot explain empty shelves.
It is critical that Defra acts now to investigate the issues in the egg supply chain so that any declaration under section 20 can be made as soon as possible.
Poultry and egg producers must have the confidence they need, working within a fair and transparent supply chain, with fair returns for farmers, so they can do what they do best; meet demand from shoppers for quality British eggs and poultry meat.”
There is currently no vaccine against bird flu, but all bio security measures are in place to try and limit forward impact. However, with the extent of recent outbreaks, further changes are been made daily.
Egg shortages and rationing are expected to last until after Christmas in the UK however, it is hoped that once we enter the New Year, availability will stabilise and fresh supply can recommence.
We are working closely with our suppliers in attempt to to minimise the impact, offering European chilled, cooked frozen and frozen alternatives.
A drop in temperatures has affected fresh fish availability (due to poor weather conditions for fishermen).
Inclement weather can reduce fishing effort and lower available volumes, which means higher prices.
In addition to the reduced availability, the strong seasonal export demand for certain fish in the run up to Christmas is continuing to inflate prices.
Sources: BBC News, Brakes UK, Direct Seafood UK, The Guardian.