17 November 2022

Therese Coffey confident ‘we can get through’ egg shortage gripping UK

17 November 2022

The Environment Secretary has said she is confident “we can get through” the egg shortage gripping the UK as she noted “there are still nearly 14 million egg-laying hens” in the country.

Therese Coffey’s comments came as Asda and Lidl are limiting the number of boxes of eggs customers can buy amid supply disruptions caused by rising costs and bird flu.

Asda is limiting customers to two boxes of eggs each and Lidl is restricting customers in some stores to three boxes, while Waitrose said it had not introduced any limits but was “continuing to monitor customer demand”.

The Environment Secretary said she was aware of “what is happening in individual shelves” but claimed retailers have not yet “directly” contacted her department to indicate supply chains problems.

During Defra questions, Labour MP Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) asked Ms Coffey in the Commons: “Some supermarkets are now rationing eggs and ahead of Christmas, there’s real concern about the supply of turkeys.

“Avian influenza has meant that the British Free Range (Egg) Producers Association have said that a third of members have cut back on production, so, can the Secretary of State say what the Government is doing to help poultry farmers through what is a very challenging time?”

Ms Coffey replied: “The minister for food, farming and fishing (Mark Spencer) is meeting the industry on a regular basis, a weekly basis is my understanding.

“I think it’s fair to say retailers have not directly contacted the department to indicate supply chains… although I am conscious of what is happening in individual shelves.

“But recognising there are still about nearly 14 million egg-laying hens available, I’m confident we can get through this supply difficulty in the short term.”

Labour later pressed Ms Coffey on what her plan is “if we face another disease outbreak”.

Shadow environment minister Daniel Zeichner told MPs: “Now, as we have already heard, food production is vulnerable to animal disease. We’ve heard about the impact of avian flu on supermarkets limiting the sale of eggs.

“Yet this week, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) highlighted what they described as a long period of inadequate management and underinvestment at the Animal and Plant Health Agency Weybridge site, and warned that they would struggle if there was any concurrent disease outbreak.

“So as the Secretary of State well knows, other diseases do threaten. Although staff are doing their very, very best, what is her plan if we face another disease outbreak?

“Or is it just fingers crossed and hoping it doesn’t happen on her watch?”

Ms Coffey said she has not yet read all of the PAC report as she was at the Cop27 climate talks.

However, she said: “But I reject the assertion they make that our biosecurity is not being well done. We should be proud of what happens in the United Kingdom in protecting our country from these sorts of diseases and we will continue to do so.”

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