A declaration under section 20 of the Act would enable DEFRA to use its statutory powers to provide needed support to egg producers whose livelihoods are under threat.
A combination of rising production costs and the avian flu crisis has led to a shortage of UK eggs. Supermarkets are importing some eggs to fill the gap while some have rationed eggs to customers to deal with supply issues.
NFU President Minette Batters said: “There are 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 in Avian Influenza yet. However, these pressures alone cannot explain empty shelves.”
Batters added that the organisation had raised concerns about the functionality of the supply chain with the Government department a number of months ago in the hope of avoiding the current situation.
“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,” she added.
The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) said that soaring costs of production, which include chicken feed, energy, diesel, pullets and packaging, have crippled many businesses, causing farms to reduce hen numbers, pause production temporarily, or quit the industry altogether.
Robert Gooch, BFREPA chief executive, said: “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.”
“Seeing Italian eggs on the shelves is a wake-up call to all retailers that they can’t expect farmers to work for nothing. Enough is enough.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for egg producer Noble Foods said: “Egg producers and packers are losing money due to the unprecedented level of inflation in the sector, driven by global events. Additionally, the sector is experiencing a record number of avian flu cases which have made producers extremely nervous about restocking their flocks. These issues of cost pressure and risk management require the entire supply chain to work together to find solutions to underlying challenges and ensure availability returns to normal levels.
“Meanwhile, as consumers would expect of us, we are continuing to work hard to get eggs from the farm onto shelves as quickly as possible to meet demand.”