British free-range organic egg farmers are considering a mass exodus from the industry due to the lack of compensation at supermarket level for the sky-high input costs experienced on farms at present.

The British free-range egg producers association (BFREPA) surveyed egg producers last week and said that 51% of farmers are "seriously considering stopping production" until the price they are paid improves.

A further 18% said they will make their decisions at the end of their current flock and more than 70% said they would leave egg production within a year if a price rise wasn’t forthcoming, according to the BFREPA.

The association said that feeding hens is 50% more expensive and energy prices have risen 40%, while fuel-spend and packaging also costs more than it did six months ago.

Robert Gooch, CEO of BFREPA, said: “There are clear and obvious cost increases being heaped upon farmers, and retailers simply aren’t sufficiently adjusting the retail price.

"Any increases being made are too little and too slow. They are suffocating businesses.

“This is nothing more than supermarkets putting cheap food marketing tactics above the needs of the primary producer.

“Many of my members are losing money on every egg laid, and our data shows that even those who are making a small profit do not see a long-term future.

"The appetite for eggs from the public is extraordinary, but I’m afraid we will see shortages of British free range and organic eggs on the shelves before long.”

As a reaction to this concern, BFREPA has asked major retailers to increase the price of free-range eggs to help farmers.

“We’ve asked every major retailer to increase the price of free range eggs by at least 40p/dozen – organic eggs need an increase closer to 80p/dozen," Gooch added.

In particular, BFREPA said it has asked Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Lidl, Marks and Spencer, and Waitrose for help – without success – and that they are the only ones in the supply chain who can make a difference.

"Only two retailers had the decency to acknowledge our request, and not one has done enough to meet the additional costs of producing eggs during this crisis," said Gooch.

Supermarket response

According to Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), and via a spokesperson for Morrisons, supermarkets are in a catch-22.

“Supermarkets source most of their food from the UK and know they need to pay a sustainable price to farmers but are constrained by how much additional cost they can pass onto consumers in this very difficult market," he said.

Agriland contacted the specifically mentioned supermarkets for a comment.

A spokesperson from Sainsbury’s said it is working on the situation: “We are in close contact with all our suppliers and understand that many are facing unprecedented cost challenges throughout their supply chains. 

"As a business we want to be able to support our suppliers so that we can help them to navigate these challenges, while maintaining high levels of animal health and welfare, as well as product quality.

“We are working with our egg suppliers to make sure they receive a price that reflects the increasing costs they are facing. This is based on real-time factors, such as the cost of feed.”

A spokesperson for Waitrose confirmed the supermarket will also work with suppliers to ensure it is paying a fair price.

“We’ve been working with our egg supplier for over 40 years, and supporting their long term viability remains of paramount importance to us," they added.

“To protect farmers from rising costs, the amount we pay for our own-label eggs already increases to reflect any rising cost of feed. We will continue to work with our suppliers to ensure we're paying a fair price."