Eggs have soared in price around the world over the past year as bird flu has decimated chicken herds and the consequences of the Russian war with Ukraine raised the prices of energy and animal feed.
In the United States, egg prices far outpaced growth in other food items, rising almost 60% in the 12 months to December compared with a year earlier. In Japan, wholesale prices reached a record high.
In New Zealand, which consumes more eggs per person than most countries, the squeeze has been exacerbated by a change in farming regulations. And rising costs have sparked a frenzy, with people looking for chickens online so they can stock their own pantry.
On Tuesday, the popular local auction site Trade Me told CNN that searches for chickens and equipment related to their care were up 190% this month compared to the same period a month ago.
“Since the beginning of January, we’ve seen more than 65,000 searches for chickens and other chicken-related items like feeders, coops and food,” said Millie Silvester, a spokeswoman for the company.
It is also a drawback it caused a particularly acute headache for bakers in the country.
“All the public are now trying to buy chickens for the house because they can’t get eggs,” said Ron van Til, owner of a bakery near the city of Christchurch. WHO had to adapt the way he makes his cakes and muffins.
Van Til said his sister was auctioning “four brand new chickens” on Trade Me, fetching more than double the normal price.
The trend has prompted animal welfare advocates to warn against impulse buying.
“Chickens live a long time,” said Gabby Clezy, chief executive of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in New Zealand. “They live eight to 10 years, sometimes even longer depending on the breed.”
Clezy also noted that hens don’t produce eggs their entire lives, and their laying habits depend on factors including their age and local climate.
“So if people are getting chicks just because [they think] they will have a constant supply of eggs, that’s just not the case,” she said. “We ask people to think of them as pets, which they are.”
Trade Me also urged customers on its marketplace to think carefully about their purchases.
“It is important that our members are aware of the responsibilities that come with owning chickens and are well prepared to care for them,” Silvester said in a statement.
Health professionals also weigh in. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone applying 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 is linked to a long-awaited change to breeding laws, which came into effect on January 1 this year.
The law prohibits the production of eggs from hens kept in conventional or “battery cages” — usually cramped metal spaces that do not provide adequate welfare for the hens, according to the SPCA.
That is why in 2012 the government announced a ban on such facilities.
But “a 10-year transition period from conventional cages has been introduced to allow 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 shortage.
“Egg producers have had the option of moving into colony cages, barns and free-range systems,” added Hyde, the ministry’s acting national manager for animal welfare and national animal identification and tracking.
Hyde said that over the past 18 months, the ministry “has been in regular contact with operators and visiting farms that need to transition.”
However, even with long delivery times, the ban has caused supply problems, some companies claim.
Foodstuffs, a New Zealand supermarket chain, recently placed temporary limits on how many eggs each customer can buy.
“It’s a significant change for the egg supply industry,” Emma Wooster, the company’s head of public relations, told CNN. “We are working with egg suppliers to increase the supply of other types of eggs.”
Countdown, another major grocer, said that while there are currently no restrictions on egg sales, it will encourage customers to “only buy what they need” to ensure there is enough supply for everyone.
Other companies were forced to change things.
Van Til, the bakery’s owner, said his team replaced fresh eggs in recipes with alternative ingredients.
The long-time owner of a Rangiora bakery has seen wholesale prices for fresh eggs rise by around 50% compared to four months ago, prompting him to buy more dried eggs instead.
Van Til also pointed to changes at other local restaurants, saying some cafes have started removing certain dishes from their menus so that “instead of having five items for breakfast [with] eggs, maybe you only have two.”
“Hopefully the customer will pick up pancakes or waffles,” he added. “Or any other offers you come up with.”