Farming industry calls for government action on egg crisis

25 November 2022, 11:04 AM
  • As the avian flu epidemic escalates, farmers are calling on the government to take a stand to protect their livelihoods

Farming industry calls for government action on egg crisis

Egg shortages and rationing in the UK are expected to last beyond Christmas, an industry body has warned, as the poultry industry grapples with spiralling costs and its worst-ever bout of bird flu.

In fact, the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) reported that bird flu-related culls had claimed 750,000 laying hens since the 1st of October alone, compared with 1.8 million over the whole of last year.

In order to deal with shortages, supermarkets across the UK have been rationing sales of eggs, limiting customers to one or two boxes each. But how long is it until the independent retailer sector is affected too, and what needs to be done to support the farming industry through this crisis?

The impact of restrictions and rationing
As a result of the epidemic, free-range birds across the country have been relegated to indoor barns and housing to protect them. 

The RSPCA, the UK’s largest animal welfare charity, revealed that it was “concerned about the long-term impact this will have on poultry welfare and the stress caused to birds now they must be housed indoors which could lead to higher levels of feather pecking and smothering.

“RSPCA Assured [the charity’s farm animal branch] will be contacting farmers and retailers to explore ways to deal with this issue in the future and there is ongoing research into possible vaccinations for poultry.”

But if this continues for much longer, British welfare will begin to suffer. According to Jane Howorth, who founded British Hen Welfare Trust in 2005, “There’s highly likely to be some overcrowding. It’s a real concern.

“These birds are reared to enjoy ranging outside and when you change their pattern of behaviour, you immediately increase stress levels. Farmers really have their work cut out. Some farmers that we’ve worked with for years have thrown in the towel and are not replacing their flocks.”

If farmers supplying independent retailers begin to give up in the face of a struggling industry and the inability to offer high-welfare sustainable produce, the fine food sector may take a significant hit.

The need for government action
BFREPA warned in March that the biggest avian flu outbreak on record could see festive shortages of eggs nationwide, but it appears that government action wasn’t put in place to mitigate the fallout of this, and farmers are now suffering the consequences.

Speaking to Sky News, a spokesperson for BFREPA explained, “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.”

Therefore, the National Farmers Union (NFU) is calling for an urgent investigation by Defra into whether an ‘exceptional market conditions’ declaration should be made under the Agriculture Act 2020, given the severe disruption that egg producers and UK consumers are experiencing.

Minette Batters, president of the NFU, explained, “There is 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 of Avian Influenza yet. However, these pressures alone cannot explain empty shelves.

“The NFU raised concerns about the functionality of the supply chain with Defra a number of months ago in the hope of avoiding the situation we have now, with some retailers having to limit UK consumers’ access to eggs. This is surely a prima facie case of severe disturbance to an agricultural market.

“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.”

Do you have an experience or viewpoint to share on this? Send us an email to

more like this
close stay up-to-date with our free newsletter | expert intel | tailored industry news | new-to-know trend analysis | sign up | speciality food daily briefing