A “full English breakfast” is insatiable without eggs. Whether fried or scrambled, they complement the warming mainstay of traditional British coffeehouses.
But on top of inflationary pressures driving up prices for ingredients – including bacon, sausages and baked beans – Britain is also battling a devastating outbreak of bird flu.
The result is an egg shortage, which has forced two discount supermarket chains – Asda and Lidl – to begin rationing the number of boxes customers can buy.
Gursel Kerik, who serves fried breakfasts at The Greasy Spoon cafe in central London, said a box of 360 eggs cost him £20 ($24) to buy in bulk three months ago.
Now it sets him back £68.
Everything went up – energy bills, the goods we buy. Blaming Brexit for contributing to his troubles, Kerik, 51, told AFP.
“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 have to close.”
The United Kingdom government on Thursday unveiled a painful new round of austerity as it struggles to cut borrowing and curb inflation on the back of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Demand for eggs has soared this year as Britons seek cheaper sources of protein to offset higher meat prices.
Then an outbreak of bird flu made everything worse.
Since November 7, the government has required all poultry and captive birds in England to be kept indoors.
This led to a reduction in egg production, as well as mass cullings of chickens in areas where influenza was detected.
– ‘We had un oeuf’ –
Pub chain JD Wetherspoon this week began replacing hash browns with eggs in its full English breakfasts, sparking front-page outrage in the Daily Star newspaper.
“It’s a dirty disgrace,” the tabloid said on Tuesday. “We’ve had un oeuf. It’s one thing after another at the moment.”
According to industry groups, a third of UK chicken farmers have cut back on egg production.
There are also warnings that the pandemic could threaten supplies of turkeys, which are traditionally eaten at Christmas.
The British Egg Industry Council said that because of rising input costs, and retailers refusing to pay farmers more money for their eggs, “producers are struggling to break even”.
The British Association of Free Range Egg Producers has protested after reports emerged that leading Sainsbury’s supermarket was importing eggs from Italy.
“We have been warning for months that failure to pay farmers the price that allows them to make a profit will lead to a mass divestiture or, worse, a mass exodus from the industry,” said the association’s chief executive Robert Gooch.
“Seeing Italian eggs on the shelves is a wake-up call to all retailers who don’t expect farmers to work for nothing,” he said.
“Enough is enough.”
Environment Minister Therese Coffey downplays the egg shortage.
“But recognizing that there are still approximately 14 million laying hens available, I am confident we can overcome this supply problem in the short term,” she told Parliament on Thursday.
Construction worker Daniel Saunders, 48, was surely hoping to smoke a cigarette outside Kerik’s Café in the City of London’s financial district.
“I’ve heard about the lack of eggs and it’s concerning to me because I have two big boys and they eat a lot,” said Saunders, who eats at the café most lunchtimes.
“And eggs are cheaper than meat,” he said. But nothing is cheap anymore in the UK.