As Taiwan goes into the Lunar New Year holidays, people are facing empty egg shelves in some supermarkets, long queues at stores with supplies, and rising prices that have been capped as an emergency measure by the Council of Agriculture.
Just as egg prices rise while supply falls, hundreds of thousands of chickens are being culled due to “bird flu.” But this seems to be the elephant in the room. Taiwan’s peak government agricultural authority, the Council of Agriculture, doesn’t mention it, most industry voices are avoiding speaking about it, and most media is silent or in actual denial.
At a press conference convened by the Council of Agriculture today, January 28, Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) blamed the shortages on weather and strong demand for the Lunar New Year.
Chen said that due to the recent large temperature difference between day and night, which affects the egg production efficiency of chickens, coupled with the strong demand before the Lunar New Year, there is a short-term shortage in egg supply. The Council of Agriculture has launched relevant countermeasures. The Council of Agriculture has requested the laying hen industry to actively increase production, and to continue production during the Chinese New Year, and to coordinate the processing industry and egg merchants to release inventory to give priority to supply household needs. At present, domestic egg production can reach 21 million per day. In addition, more than 800,000 eggs are dispatched daily to increase the supply of traditional markets, and more than 100,000 eggs to the supermarket channel to ensure consumer demand.
The Central News Agency [Government Information Office] reported COA data yesterday that showed from January 1 to January 27 more than 111,000 chickens had been culled in Changhua County in the name of epidemic prevention following a “highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza” being detected on five poultry farms in the county. However, avian influenza (and the mass slaughters to “protect” the chickens) are not the cause of price rises and egg shortages, according to the report.
“A chicken farmer pointed out in a media interview that the temperature difference between morning and evening has recently been large, the egg production rate of chickens has dropped, and the public is expecting egg prices to rise. There is an imbalance between market demand and supply, and egg prices are not greatly affected by the avian flu epidemic,” said the CNA report.
The Storm Media, however, is a little more critical in noting the mass culls occurring amid the rising prices and shortages.
“Although the industry is mostly silent on the epidemic, Changhua egg farmers revealed that the avian flu was rampant last year, and at least 3 million chickens were culled, including chickens that died due to other diseases caused by bird flu,” The Storm Media reported today, January 28.
“Gao Chuanmo, chairman of the Taipei Egg Merchants Association, said frankly that bird flu has appeared in breeder, broiler, and laying hen farms, and even free range chicken farms. They couldn’t make up for the shortfall. “In this case, there may be a lack of eggs until March or April,” The Storm Media report said.
The Storm Media report largely quoted from a News and Market report. News and Market called farmers to inquire about the effect of bird flu on egg supply, and found them reticent to discuss the issue of viral infection.
“News and Market called more than a dozen laying hen farms, and most of the operators who answered the phone said: “Before the Chinese New Year sales are booming, so the egg supply was insufficient” or “the weather was too cold to lay eggs”. When asked about the [avian flu and infectious bursal disease virus] epidemic , The practitioners kept their mouths shut and responded with “don’t know”, “don’t want to answer”, and “ask someone else.”
“Chicken farmers reacted strangely, as if just saying the word “epidemic” would make the chicken fall to the ground,” the News and Market report said.
And it’s not just chicken viruses that caused the egg shortages. The COVID epidemic was an antecedent that contributed to the reduction in chicken numbers.
“According to a reporter’s investigation, the number of chickens raised in Taiwan was greatly reduced last year due to the new crown pneumonia epidemic, which was an important antecedent for the lack of eggs,” News and Market said.
The report explained that despite rising feed prices, demand for chickens and eggs collapsed with the closure of the catering industry, causing farmers to reduce numbers. The report quoted a farmer who said that such price collapses usually only last 1-2 months, but egg prices hit bottom and stayed there from May to October when the price of eggs remained below production costs. As a result “20% of laying hens were eliminated, and the breeding volume was 80% of the previous year.”
As for the high price of chicken feed, this is also being influenced, if not directly caused by multiple virus factors. Supply chain problems and outrageously high freight costs caused by COVID prevention measures are obvious contributors to the high price of corn. Another virus related factor is swine flu. According to a Wall Street Journal report, China’s rebounding hog numbers after culling for swine flu in recent years is resulting in a surge of demand for American corn.
So far in my investigation of what the war on viruses has to do with the price of eggs, I have noted many viruses involved -avian influenza (and its various sub-types), infectious bursal disease virus, COVID-19 (and its various variants and sub-variants), and swine flu. While all of these viruses, and possibly more, may be involved in the price dynamics of eggs, I doubt that any or all are the actual cause of the price rises and shortages. It may be that the war itself may be distracting us from more serious essentials for our survival.
Cover picture: People queue for eggs in Keelung City today, January 28.
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