Eggs have skyrocketed in price around the world over the past year as bird flu has decimated chicken herds and fallout from Russia’s war with Ukraine raised energy and feed prices.
In the United States, egg prices have far outpaced the rise in other grocery items, rising nearly 60% in the 12 months to December compared to the previous year. In Japan, wholesale prices have reached an all-time high.
In New Zealand, which consumes more eggs per person than most countries, the pressure has been exacerbated by a change in agricultural regulations. And the rising costs have created a frenzy, with people hunting chickens online so they can secure their own supply from the pantry.
On Tuesday, popular local auction site Trade Me told CNN that searches for chickens and equipment to care for them were up 190% year-to-date this month compared to the same period a month ago.
“Since the beginning of January, we have seen more than 65,000 searches for chickens and other chicken-related items, such as feeders, pens and food,” said Millie Silvester, a spokesperson for the company.
The shortage is also there caused a particularly acute headache for bakers across the country.
“The whole public is now trying to buy chickens for their homes because they can’t get eggs,” said Ron van Til, owner of a bakery near the city of Christchurch. Who has had to adjust how he makes his pies and muffins.
Van Til said his sister sold “four brand new chickens” at auction through Trade Me, fetching more than double the usual price.
The trend has prompted animal welfare advocates to warn against impulse buying.
“Chickens live long,” said Gabby Clezy, CEO of New Zealand’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). “They live from eight to 10 years, sometimes even longer, depending on the breed.”
Clezy also noted that chickens don’t lay eggs throughout their lives and their laying habits depend on factors such as their age and the local climate.
“So if people just get chickens because [they think] they’re going to have a permanent supply of eggs, that’s just not the case,” she said. “We’re asking people to consider them companion animals, whatever they are.”
Trade Me has also urged customers on its marketplace to think about any purchases.
“It is important that our members are aware of the responsibilities that come with raising chickens, and are properly set up to care for them,” Silvester said in a statement.
Health experts weigh in too. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone who signs up for a backyard chicken coop should take extra care when handling the animals and their eggs, especially because of the risk of germs associated with salmonella.
New Zealand’s egg shortage has been linked to a long-awaited amendment to the Agriculture Act, which came into effect on January 1 this year.
The law prohibits the production of eggs from chickens kept in conventional or “battery cages” — typically cramped metal spaces that SPCA says do not provide adequate welfare for chickens.
Therefore, in 2012, the government announced a ban on such facilities.
But “a 10-year transition period away from conventional cages was introduced to give egg producers time to change farming practices,” Peter Hyde, a representative of New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries, told CNN in a statement. when asked about the current deficit.
“Egg producers had the option of moving into colony cages, barns and free-range systems,” added Hyde, the Department of Animal Welfare and National Animal Identification and Tracing Acting National Manager.
Hyde said the ministry had been in “regular contact with operators and visited farms needing to switch” over the past 18 months.
Despite the long lead time, the ban has led to supply problems, according to some companies.
Foodstuffs, a New Zealand supermarket chain, recently imposed temporary limits on the number of eggs each customer can buy.
“It’s a significant change for the egg industry,” Emma Wooster, the company’s head of public relations, told CNN in a statement. “We are working with egg suppliers to increase our offerings in other types of eggs.”
Countdown, another major supermarket chain, said that while it currently has no limit on egg sales, it would encourage customers to “buy only what they need” to ensure there is enough supply for everyone.
Other companies have been forced to change course.
Van Til, the owner of the bakery, said his team had swapped fresh eggs for alternative ingredients in recipes.
The long-time owner of Rangiora Bakery has seen wholesale prices for fresh eggs rise by about 50% compared to four months ago, prompting him to buy more dried eggs instead.
Van Til also pointed to changes at other local eateries, saying some cafes had started removing certain dishes from their menus so that “instead of five breakfast items [with] eggs, you may only have two.
“And hopefully the customer picks up pancakes or waffles,” he added. “Or whatever other offers you come up with.”