Egg prices rise as hens wilt in record heat

Sharon Lee

Eggs in Hong Kong are costing consumers more as chickens in eastern China lay fewer eggs amid record summer heat.

Major cities around the world are recording their hottest days since July and dips in egg supplies are being seen as hens suffer from heat stress.

Simon Wong Ka-wo, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Allied Trades, said “the price of eggs in Hong Kong has increased slightly, but not significantly.”

He estimates that prices have risen by “a few tens of Hong Kong cents per egg”.

According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department’s average wholesale price list of major fresh foods in Hong Kong yesterday, a medium mainland brown-shelled egg costs 79 HK cents, while the same size and the same type of American egg costs 91 HK cents.

Wong said about 80% of the restaurant industry’s eggs come from the mainland, with a small percentage from America, Japan and Europe.

“Rising egg prices won’t impact long-term business, as prices will drop with the cooler weather,” Wong said.

He added that it would be difficult to buy large quantities of eggs from other countries and regions due to high delivery costs.

Last month, high temperature warnings of over 40 degrees Celsius were put in place for 10 consecutive days in Sichuan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Henan and Hebei. And in Hefei city, some farmers have installed cooling systems for their chickens after experiencing a drop in egg production.

The dwindling supply has pushed prices up 30% in cities including Hefei, Hangzhou and Hai’an, costing around 1.1 yuan (HK$1.27) per egg from 95 fen previously.

Although the number of laying hens has not decreased, each hen lays fewer eggs.

A City University veterinary expert said hens produce fewer eggs in extreme heat conditions due to stress and lethargy, as well as the energy reserve needed for laying eggs.

“Chickens don’t have many ways to cool themselves and are prone to death from overheating,” he noted.

As with chickens, heat-induced stress will cause cows to produce less milk, so a shortage of dairy products may also appear in the near future. Other foods affected by the continued heat waves are wheat, corn and soybeans as field crops have dried up. The sweltering heat could also invite plagues of locusts, like the European island of Sardinia hurt by an onslaught of voracious insects.

In turn, the loss or reduction of food crops will likely lead to a ripple effect for commodities such as pork. Because soybeans and corn make up a large part of the diet for pigs on the mainland – Hong Kong’s main source of meat products.

The plant proteins in almond milk and tofu could also be affected.

Fruits and vegetables have already been largely affected as pollination ceases in extreme heat and photosynthesis declines rapidly at high temperatures, leading to lower yields worldwide.

Increases in food prices due to hot weather caused by climate change are commonly referred to as “heatflation”.

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