Eggs in short supply following new EU directive on laying hen welfare

In the Czech Republic, egg prices have increased sharply in recent weeks as a result of a new EU directive that strives to improve conditions in laying hen farms. Since many farmers have failed to implement the new regulations in time, eggs are now in short supply in some countries. Some Czech consumers have even started buying large quantities in neighboring Germany. How will the situation develop ahead of Easter?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Czech consumers are currently finding out the answer to this question the hard way. As a result of a new EU directive on the welfare of laying hens that went into effect on January 1, the price of eggs in the Czech Republic has increased sharply –from about 2 to 3 Czech crowns per piece to up to 7 crowns.

Under this directive, which was issued in 1999, the use of the old type battery cages, which are small and have concrete floors, was to be completely phased out across the union by 2012. However, roughly 15 EU member states were slow to prepare and had not yet entirely done away with conventional cages by the start of the year.

In the Czech Republic, this has lead to a shortage in the egg supply and by consequence, a steep increase in cost. Why have egg farmers failed to prepare for the phase-out? I put the question to agriculture analyst Petr Havel.

Petr Havel
“I think that many farmers relied on what unfortunately often is the case in the EU: a new directive is issued but some interest groups manage to push through exceptions. This was not the case this time. The EU has really put its foot down on this. Those who do not abide by the new regulations can still produce eggs, but are no longer allowed to export them. This is a problem for the Czech Republic. We import about 20 percent of our eggs. And some of the companies that we were importing eggs from did not comply with the new regulations.”

With Easter fast approaching, Czech consumers are buying eggs en masse in neighboring Germany. There, battery cages have been banned since 2007 and prices have remained low – 2 to 3 crowns per piece. Some retailers, among them the discount supermarket chain Netto, have reacted to the Czech “egg tourism” by imposing a two-package limit per customer. According to spokeswoman Christina Styilanou, this was necessary to ensure supplies would last since some consumers would return to the Czech Republic with entire trunks filled with eggs. But how will prices develop in the future? Petr Havel again.

Photo: Czech Television
“They will not stay at this high level for long. After Easter, we can expect prices to drop again, but not to the level that they were at last year. Eggs for 2 or 3 crowns a piece, that will not be the norm anymore, with these new regulations.”

However, consumers are outraged and feel that both egg farmers and retailers are taking advantage of the shortage. Meanwhile, the affair has left Czech Agriculture Minister Petr Bendl with egg on his face. Some say his ban on imports of about half a million eggs from Poland at the start of this year to protect domestic producers has made the situation even worse.