The pecking order enjoy it while it lasts...
One man’s loss is another man’s gain. Since April, the United States has been battling highly pathogenic Avian Influenza. Already 40 million laying hens have been culled. That’s 10 to 15 percent of the market, in a market where every percent counts. Just now, as health-conscious Americans are craving for proteins, supermarkets feel forced to limit the number of boxes of eggs per customer. There are even some restaurants that have limited breakfast hours to curb the demand for omelettes.
The Dutch, merchants as we are, have lobbied for decades to sell eggs and egg products to the US, but were refused entrance to the Land of the Free. For food security reasons, Uncle Sam said. But necessity is the mother of invention. So, for the first time ever, we have been granted permission to export 420,000 tons of egg powder to the US - roughly the equivalent of 100 million Dutch eggs. That’s 1 percent of our total production of 10 billion eggs – in a market where every percent counts.
The timing of the green light for this deal couldn’t have been better, in the midst of our summer, when prices are seasonally low. Dutch egg prices are on the rise again now, although not nearly as high as in the US, where prices have doubled since the beginning of this year. So hurray!
The egg business welcomes this news, in the midst of all the doom and gloom that has been cast over the industry recently. And they might as well try to hold on to this positive feeling as long as possible, in the light of recent developments in neighbouring Germany. The Germans have always used quite a lot of Dutch eggs. We export twothird of all our eggs, of which 50 percent end up in a German egg-cup.
But recently, the Germans - always in favour of homegrown products - have been working on their self-sufficiency. Egg exports are coming under pressure. And their latest trick? Well, the German government and the German egg producers have collectively agreed that as from August 1, 2016, beak trimming is no longer allowed. In some regions, like Niedersachsen, egg producers participating in the voluntary animal welfare programme Tiehrwol, already manage to get an allowance of € 1,70 per hen if they use untrimmed hens.
In The Netherlands, beak trimming will only be banned from September 1, 2018. So the Germans beat us by two years. And with a still significantly large amount of eggs that are exported across our eastern border, you can bet that this will have an impact. Dutch layer farms will feel pressurised to switch to non-treated hens sooner than planned. Of course, the industry is preparing itself. Several studies and working groups are exploring ways to keep hens with whole beaks. And preliminary results show that it isn’t impossible. But it will definitely increase the costs of egg production. Figures show that the average death toll will double from 3 to 6 percent in regular free-range housing. But when things get out of hand and severe pecking problems arise, those numbers may rise to 15 percent, causing serious financial losses: up to 85,000 euros for an establishment with 100,000 hens. So, we should enjoy the good feeling while it lasts...