Japan egg prices soar amid record 16m bird flu cullings

TOKYO: Egg prices are soaring in Japan as the current avian flu season sees a record 16 million birds marked for culling, impacting both the restaurant sector and households already struggling with inflation. Egg-laying hens make up more than 90 percent of birds in the process of being culled, according to the agriculture ministry, limiting the supply of eggs and pushing prices higher.

The current bird flu outbreak has spread at an unprecedented pace since the season began in October, with at least 80 cases at poultry firms in 26 of the country’s 47 prefectures, according to Japan Times.

As of March 2, the wholesale price per kilogram of medium sized eggs was 335 yen ($2.4) in Tokyo, the highest ever since 1993 when data first became available, according to JA.Z-Tamago Co, the egg seller within the JA agricultural cooperative group. Concerns about shortages are also growing, with an increasing number of restaurants opting to suspend offering egg-based dishes.

It is expected to take at least six months until egg availability recovers to former levels. Once an infection is confirmed at a poultry farm, all its birds are culled, after which the facility is sanitized and quarantine measures are put in place. It can take between three and seven months for such farms to return to raising chickens as normal again. “Work to resume poultry farming is already under way and (production) should be active in early spring,” a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official said. “But it will take some time for numbers to recover because farms won’t return to 100 percent capacity straight away,” the official said.

Eggs, along with beansprouts, are normally one of Japan’s most stably priced food items so the situation has caused added concern for consumers and suppliers amid as Japan is already experiencing its highest consumer price increases in four decades. Core consumer inflation reached 4 percent in December from a year earlier, hitting a 41-year high due to higher energy and food prices. Japanese casual restaurant chain operator Skylark Holdings began suspending sales of some menu items that use eggs earlier this month, such as fried rice at its Chinese food restaurant chain and fried egg topping at its steak restaurants.

“Due to the shortage of raw materials for chicken eggs caused by avian influenza, we will suspend sales of some products or change the way we serve them for the time being,” the company said in a news release. Starting on Wednesday, Sukiya, one of Japan’s largest beef bowl chains, raised the price of its flagship beef and rice with raw egg topping and miso soup to 540 yen, an increase of 10 yen, among other items that include eggs at restaurants in certain parts of the country. The dishes are extremely popular with office workers, who often enjoy them for lunch. – Agencies

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