Italian eggs have been landing in British supermarkets following recent shortages in the UK, which previously forced some supermarkets to ration supplies due to rising costs and avian flu.
UK egg farmers claim they slashed production as a result of rising costs in their supply chain, which caused them to sell at a loss, causing The National Farmer’s Union (NFU) to call for urgent action.
With the foreign eggs hitting UK supermarket shelves last year, Italian egg exports to Britain rose to over a million euros in 2022, up from €23,000 in 2021.
Trouble first started for UK egg farmers when the war in Ukraine tripled the price of chicken feed, which accounts for 60-70% of their costs.
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Since then, supermarket shelves have been restocked with free-range eggs as the governments mandatory bird flu lockdown was lifted last month.
“Last year it cost us £1.40 to produce a dozen eggs, but the supermarkets insisted on continuing to pay just £1, meaning many producers halted production to avoid selling at a loss,” chief executive of British Free Range Egg Producers’ Association (BFREPA), Robert Gooch said.
The number of free range laying hens, which account for 70% of retail egg sales in the UK, dropped from 26.5 million last May to 25.1 million in January. “That’s about 1.5 million fewer eggs a day,” said Gooch.
President of Eurovo, Italy’s largest egg producer, Sirio Lionello commented: “Over in the UK, supermarkets did not increase the prices they offered to local producers, who reduced production, creating a shortfall the market did not expect.”
However, while the UK focuses on free range production where UK hens live outdoors, 65% of Italian production is derived from lower-cost barn eggs, where hens are kept indoors.
The arrival of Italian eggs on UK shelves sparked outrage from British producers amid allegations that Italian barn eggs are kept in cages, but Italian producers denied this.
“That’s totally false, we don’t do that — we keep nine hens per square metre as per European Union rules,” said Silvia Lionello, a director at Eurovo.