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Egg shortage lays UK low

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey is playing down the egg shortage.

A “full English breakfast” is not full without eggs. Whether fried or scrambled, they round out the calorific mainstay of traditional British cafes.

But on top of inflationary pressures which have sent the price of ingredients soaring — including bacon, sausages and baked beans — Britain is also contending with a devastating outbreak of avian influenza.

The result is a shortage of eggs, which has forced two cut-price supermarket chains — Asda and Lidl — to start rationing how many boxes customers can buy.

Gursel Kirik, who serves up fried breakfasts in his “greasy spoon” cafe in central London, said a crate of 360 eggs cost him £20 ($24) to buy wholesale three months ago. 

Now it sets him back £68.

“Everything is up — the energy bills, the goods we purchase. Every week it goes up so we’re really struggling,” Kirik, 51, told AFP, blaming Brexit for contributing to his woes.

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“We can stay open for four or five months for sure because we know we’ll be able to pay our bills, but after that, I’m really worried we’ll be forced to close down.” 

The UK government on Thursday unveiled a painful new round of austerity as it battles to bring down borrowing and curtail inflation on the back of Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

Demand for eggs had gone up this year as Britons sought out cheaper sources of protein to offset soaring meat prices. 

Then the bird flu outbreak worsened everything.

Since November 7, the government has required all poultry and captive birds in England to be kept indoors. 

That has limited the production of eggs, on top of mass culls of chickens in areas where the influenza has been detected.

– ‘We’ve had un oeuf’ –

The JD Wetherspoon pub chain this week began substituting hash browns for eggs in its full English breakfasts, prompting an exasperated front-page headline in the Daily Star.

“It’s a cluckin’ disgrace,” the tabloid newspaper said on Tuesday. “We’ve had un oeuf. It’s one damn thing after another at the moment.”

A third of UK chicken farmers have already scaled back production of eggs, according to industry groups.

There are also warnings that the epidemic could threaten the supply of turkeys traditionally eaten at Christmas.

The British Egg Industry Council said that because of soaring input costs, and the refusal of retailers to pay farmers more for their eggs, “producers are struggling to break even”.

The British Free Range Egg Producers Association protested after reports emerged that leading supermarket Sainsbury’s was importing eggs from Italy.

“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,” association chief executive Robert Gooch said.

“Seeing Italian eggs on the shelves is a wake-up call to all retailers that they can’t expect farmers to work for nothing,” he said.

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“Enough is enough.”

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey is playing down the egg shortage.

“But recognising there are still about nearly 14 million egg-laying hens available, I’m confident we can get through this supply difficulty in the short term,” she told parliament on Thursday.

Construction worker Daniel Saunders, 48, certainly hoped so as he smoked a cigarette outside Kirik’s cafe in the City of London financial district.

“I’ve heard about the egg shortage and it’s worrying for me because I have two big teenage boys and they eat a lot,” said Saunders, who dines at the cafe most lunchtimes. 

“And eggs are cheaper than meat,” he said. “But nothing is cheap anymore in the UK.”

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