In March, the Federal government decided to redefine the term “free range” as it relates to eggs. The new legal definition says each chicken should have one square metre of space and “meaningful and regular access” to the outdoors. Fast forward three months and you’ll notice that free-range egg supplies in your local supermarket are running low.
As reported by The Age, the shortage is because the government is still drafting rules surrounding the size and design of free-range barns. This means farmers are hesitant to build more barns to keep up with the free-range demand until they can be sure they’re not breaching any future regulations. Adding to this pressure is the fact that shorter, darker winter days mean chickens are laying less eggs, and national egg consumption is up by three to four per cent annually,
Similar to January’s “avocalypse” that saw cafes hike the price of avocado-related dishes containing avocado in response to avocado shortages, the free-range egg shortage will also have ramifications for venue owners.
Nate Wilkins, executive chef of Melbourne venues Top Paddock, Kettle Black and the soon-to-open Higher Ground told Broadsheet he believes these conditions might be the perfect storm. “There’s been such a boom in the cafe and breakfast scenes, and all of these factors are contributing to the egg shortage.”
“I can’t imagine that egg prices will double or triple like we saw with avocados, but we may have to look at changing the way we use eggs on our menu.” Wilkins continues. “It’s not uncommon for 80 per cent of a breakfast menu to contain eggs in some way. There’s no way we’ll use eggs that aren’t free range though – we wouldn’t compromise on that front.”
Michelle Hughes, head chef at Surry Hills cafe Venus Wholefoods thinks the egg industry should be regulated heavily, especially when it comes to free-range eggs.
“Even if there is an egg shortage, I’ll do my best to source only organic, free-range eggs, regardless of the increase in cost. I’m not going to pass these costs onto customers because I feel so strongly about the industry,” she says.
Current conditions look to last for two months. The shortage is only affecting free-range eggs, meaning you might have to think twice before popping a dozen in your shopping basket.