Supermarkets hatch a profit
Dutch producers of free range outdoor eggs are pretty pissed. They have had to keep their hens indoors for more than twelve weeks now, which means that their eggs are being degraded from exclusive outdoor free range eggs to regular free range eggs - which is costing them a lot of money.
This winter, high numbers of wild waterfowl in Europe were infected with highly pathogenic Avian Influenza. When those migrating birds fly over commercial free-ranging chickens in a pasture, their droppings can infect them with the AI virus.
Numbers of professional poultry establishments in Hungary, France, Germany and Great Britain became infected. So as a precautionary measure, free ranging chickens in the EU had to be kept indoors. In the Netherlands, we had five Ai-outbreaks on turkey, duck and chicken farms.
Of the total Dutch egglaying poultry population, roughly 5 million (17 percent) are free-ranging outdoor chickens. They are housed in a large barn that also features a sort of covered porch, and they must have access to the free outdoors as well. Per hen, a minimum of four square metres is required; so one hectare per 2 500 hens. Considering the Dutch farmland prices, those ‘code 1’ free range eggs are considerably more expensive to produce than the regular indoor free range eggs (code 2).
In the Netherlands, outdoor hens had to be kept indoors as from November 9. For twelve weeks, until February 1, farmers could still sell those eggs as code 1 outdoor-eggs, at roughly 8,5 to 9,5 Eurocents (around R1,20 per egg). But on February 2, those eggs became regular free range eggs, code 2. For those eggs, farmers are paid only 5,7 Eurocents (R0,77). Which means 36 % less while all other costs remain the same.
But the proverbial mud really hit the fan when farmers found out that the supermarkets kept selling the eggs for the regular outdoorfree-range price to consumers. Chairwoman Hennie de Haan (no joke, that’s her real name) of the Dutch union of poultry producers, is furious.
“The retail sector sells those eggs, for which they pay only 5,7 cents, for prices ranging from 21 to 31 Eurocents,” she scolds with rage. “No one can do anything about this bird flu situation, but the same supermarkets that promote fair trade and sustainability, now make a profit at the cost of the farmers.”
In Belgium, supermarkets add a sticker on those egg cartons explaining that the free range hens unfortunately have to stay inside temporarily.
“Those farmers are paid the regular price for outdoor free range eggs. Why can’t that be done here in Holland as well?,” De Haan asks.
Dutch politicians have promised to look into the matter, and urge supermarkets to pay farmers the regular price for code 1 eggs.
The fact that the code 1 eggs are currently out of stock, is also influencing the market. The Dutch egg sector exports two-thirds of its production. But importers from other EU countries prefer the ‘one stop shop’, and if the Dutch packing stations can’t deliver free range outdoor eggs, they look for other suppliers who can, and buy the other egg types there as well. So the Dutch organisation of egg traders, Anevei, is pleading to end the mandatory indoor confinement very quickly. Because in France and Spain outdoor free range eggs are back on the market, as well as in parts of Germany and in the UK…