An EU ban on hen battery cages has caused egg prices to reach record levels, with the food industry hardest hit by short supplies, the EU Commission said. The shortage is expected to last months.
Egg prices have "surged considerably" in recent weeks, the EU Commission said in a statement Thursday, with prices for both breakfast eggs as well as eggs for industrial use at "record levels."
"As a result of a ban on cross-border trade in eggs from small battery cages, egg supply substantially dwindled," the European Union's executive body admitted.
According to figures released by Brussels, breakfast eggs cost 55 percent more in the first week of March, compared with prices in the week before. In relation to average prices before the battery cage ban took effect on January 1, eggs were almost 44 percent more expensive now.
Biscuit and cake makers, as well as pasta producers and chocolate manufacturers, were "particularly affected" as the price for eggs for the food industry - normally 50 percent cheaper than supermarket eggs - quickly surged to become 10-20 percent more expensive than the supermarket equivalent.
"Based on the experience made in Germany, which introduced the ban in 2010, we expect the egg market to stabilize by the end of April," the EU Commission said.
Holdouts smarting most
A 1999 EU directive on animal welfare banned the sale of eggs from hens kept in battery cages. However, the new rule still allowed producers to sell so-called non-compliant eggs to domestic manufacturers, though they cannot be exported to other EU countries.
Based on the outcomes of national audits, the EU Commission found "significant non-compliance" in France, Poland, Belgium and Portugal. Countries with "serious problems" to enforce the ban were Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, Greece and Hungary.
Countries including Austria, Germany and Britain, which implemented the ban, have urged the Commission to do more to punish members that flout the restrictions.
The EU Commission said it expected egg production to "fall by 2.5 percent" this year. "Higher egg prices are a major incentive to abide by the new rules and boost production," it added.
uhe/ai (AFP, dpa, Reuters)