Tesco may ration eggs as bird flu leads to empty shelves

Supermarket considers joining Asda and Lidl in placing limits on customer purchases if situation gets worse

Tesco is considering joining Lidl and Asda in rationing eggs, as bird flu causes shortages on supermarket shelves across the country.

While at present there is sufficient availability, sources at the chain said although they currently had enough eggs, rationing would be considered if the situation worsened.

Shoppers posting on social media have reported empty shelves at Tesco and Sainsbury’s stores across the country.

Currently, branches of Asda and Lidl are limiting customers to two boxes of eggs each, while other supermarkets are sourcing eggs from other countries, including Italy.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents supermarkets, said that it was impossible to tell how long the shortages would last or how bad they would become.

Andrew Opie, the BRC’s director of food and sustainability, added: “While avian flu has disrupted the supply of some egg ranges, retailers are experts at managing supply chains and are working hard to minimise impact on customers. Some stores have introduced temporary limits on the number of boxes customers can buy to ensure availability for everyone.”

Should it be “eggs-periencing”?

Anyway, there’s a run on eggs. #EggShortage pic.twitter.com/XDTpM9WjyG

— BADger (@back_badger) November 15, 2022

The UK is battling its largest-ever bout of bird flu, with a highly pathogenic variant circulating. A very small amount of virus causes severe disease in birds and is often fatal. Since early November, birdkeepers have had to keep their animals housed and away from wildlife to reduce the spread.

When there is a confirmed outbreak on a poultry or egg farm, all the birds in the affected area are destroyed. This means that thereare less chicken and fewer eggs in the supply chain, with egg supply particularly affected at the moment.

Egg farmers have warned that the shortages are likely to worsen. The British Free Range Egg Producers Association said: “Many of our members are losing money on every egg laid, and our data shows that even those who are making a small profit do not see a long-term future.

“Fewer hens means fewer eggs and we warned in March that eggs could be in short supply by Christmas. On top of this, avian influenza has resulted in the culling of laying hens too.”

They are also asking Sainsbury’s for an urgent meeting after the retailer confirmed it is stocking eggs imported from Italy.

Robert Gooch, BFREPA Chief Executive, said: “We have been warning for months that failing to pay farmers a price which allows them to make a profit would result in mass de-stocking or, worse still, an exodus from the industry.”

Now, I thought those tweeting about @Tesco and a lack of eggs were joking. Not so. Just after 8 this morning in my local store. The egg bay is very empty indeed. pic.twitter.com/MkEY4pQ4gR

— Brian Winter (@brianwinteruk) November 15, 2022

They added that, due to farmers leaving the business and the effects of bird flu, 227,350 free-range birds, 24,000 organic and 447,000 caged birds had been lost since 1 October – more than 743,000 this season. In the 2021 season, 1.8 million chickens were lost.

Another major issue affecting egg supply is the price of farming; feed and housing costs have rocketed but supermarkets are not matching these increases in their payments to suppliers. This is causing some egg farmers to leave the business.

Sources at the Waitrose supermarket chain seemed more optimistic about their egg supply than rivals. While they are “monitoring the situation”, they do not expect shortages or rationing in the near future.

Bird flu is hitting products across the supply chain. Oxo, the stock company, warned that its free-range products are no longer that, because chickens are being housed inside. Packets of Oxo’s free-range chicken stock have had a sticker saying “temporarily made using non free-range stock” placed on them.

Sainsbury’s have been approached for comment.


Helena Horton Environment reporter

The GuardianTramp

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