Eggs in short sup­ply as S. Korea battles its worst out­break

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By REUTERS in Seoul

Moon Hong-nam, a pas­try chef in Seoul, needs at least 15,000 eggs a day to bake cakes, but af­ter South Korea’s worst out­break of bird flu and a surge in the prices of eggs, he is con­sid­er­ing chang­ing his menu.

“We can ride it out through Christ­mas with what (sup­plies) we have se­cured,” said Moon, who works at the LeSCARGOT bak­ery in the city. “But if (bird flu) con­tin­ues un­til Jan­uary, we will have to raise prices in­evitably and make bak­ery items that do not need eggs.”

About 20 mil­lion birds, nearly a quar­ter of South Korea’s poul­try stock, have been culled to con­trol the out­break. Most of the birds culled are egg-lay­ing hens.

The flu has spread in other parts of Asia as well, par­tic­u­larly in Ja­pan.

In South Korea, the av­er­age re­tail price for 30 eggs has risen nearly 25 per­cent to $5.68 since the out­break be­gan on Nov 18, — the high­est in more than three years.

The price hike is putting a dent in the wal­lets of Kore­ans, who usu­ally eat more eggs in the win­ter, in­clud­ing in bread and kim­bap, a Korean sushi roll.

Feel­ing the sup­ply pinch, Lee Sang-hyup, 55, owner of Jeonju Restau­rant, said he has cut down the amount of fluffy steamed eggs served free with the main dish, spicy braised hair­tail fish.

“If I can’t have enough eggs, then I have no choice but to stop serv­ing it,” said Lee, adding that it was the first time since he started the restau­rant three years ago that he was ra­tioning por­tions of the side dish.

Be­sides the price in­creases, some stores are re­strict­ing egg pur­chases.

To ease the short­age, South Korea’s Agri­cul­ture Min­istry is seek­ing to im­port egg-lay­ing chick­ens and eggs from the United States, Spain and New Zealand.

An­a­lysts said the egg short­age was ex­pected to last at least one year as it could take up to two years for egg and poul­try in­dus­try to raise baby chick­ens and re­build flocks.

Chicken sales

Al­though egg con­sump­tion is likely to be steady de­spite the higher prices, the bird flu has cut into sales of chicken meat.

Chicken sales had dropped 25 per­cent since the bird flu out­break, while pork sales jumped about 30 per­cent.

Other ma­jor dis­count stores also saw a drop in chicken sales de­spite dis­counts. Chicken sales at E-Mart fell 15.4 per­cent in the first 15 days of De­cem­ber from a year ear­lier, whereas im­ported pork sales surged about 85 per­cent dur­ing the same pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to E-Mart data.

Kim Dong-jin, man­ager at Korea Poul­try As­so­ci­a­tion, said the re­cent bird flu out­break poses a se­ri­ous threat to the poul­try in­dus­try as it could lose mar­ket share to im­ported chicken meat from Brazil and the United States, while it can’t sup­ply enough eggs.

“(Korean poul­try farm­ers) are in a double whammy sit­u­a­tion,” said Kim.

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