Eggs-pensive omelettes

Published December 25, 2023
*as at Dec 21 Source: PBS
*as at Dec 21 Source: PBS

Over the last year, the price per egg has increased by about Rs10, of which the Rs5 hike has come over the last month alone. Though some media reports point towards profiteering by shopkeepers, the recent price hike seems to be driven by a demand and supply gap for a key ingredient in poultry rearing — soybean meal.

Over the last five years or so, the poultry industry has increased the use of soybean meal in its feed rations. Because of its high protein content, it makes for fatter, healthier chicken. Chickens also tend to grow faster and fully mature in fewer days when fed a diet of soybean meal.

However, its price has escalated amid a shortage because of the government’s ban on genetically modified soybeans in October 2022, which has led prices to surge over the months. Grandparent stock, which, as the name suggests, leads to the production of broiler chickens for consumption, is also declining. Fewer chickens equals fewer eggs.

A day-old chicken’s price had crossed Rs70.5, though it was as low as Rs13 in March this year. Sadly, when chicks become too expensive to raise, they are left to die. This also starts a cycle — fewer grown chickens mean a smaller flock to be eaten and to lay eggs.

Seemingly random factors influence the poultry sector. During the school year, eggs form an integral part of lunchboxes for school-going kids. In the summers, when the schools are closed and mangoes rule supreme, people opt to divert their income towards the king of fruits.

Wedding season and Muharram also impact the prices of the poultry sector. In Muharram, there is an upswing in demand for beef haleem while consumption of chicken decreases. In the wedding season, which is in full swing right now, there is a preference for poultry dishes, which is why demand rises and contributes to the current pressure on the price of eggs.

Till more soybeans are allowed to be imported, people will have to swallow eggs-orbitantly expensive omelettes.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 25th, 2023

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