Business

Mexico scrambles to cope with egg shortage

Sunday, August 26, 2012    

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government is battling an egg shortage and hoarding that have caused prices to spike in a country with the highest per-capita egg consumption on Earth.

A summer epidemic of bird flu in the heart of Mexico's egg industry has doubled the cost of a kilo (2.2 pounds), or about 13 eggs, to more than 40 pesos (US$3), a major blow to working- and middle-class consumers in a country that consumes more than 350 eggs per person each year. That's 100 more eggs per person than in the United States.

Egg prices have dominated the headlines here for a week, spurring Mexico City's mayor to ship tons of cheap eggs to poor neighborhoods and the federal government to announce emergency programs to get fresh chickens to farms hit by bird flu and to restock supermarket shelves with eggs imported from the U.S. and Central America.

The national dismay over egg prices has revealed the unappreciated importance of a cheap, easy source of protein that's nearly as important to Mexican kitchens as tortillas, rice and beans. Added boiled to stewed chicken, raw to a fruit-juice hangover cure and in every other conceivable form to hundreds of other foods, the once-ubiquitous eggs has disappeared from many street-side food stands and middle-class kitchens in recent days.

"Eggs, as you know, are one of Mexicans' most important foods and make up a core part of their diet, especially in the poorest regions of the country," President Felipe Calderon said Friday as he announced about US$227 million in emergency financing and commercial measures to restore production and replace about 11 million chickens slaughtered after the June outbreak of bird flu.

Calderon said he was sending inspectors to stop speculation that he blamed for high egg prices, which have almost single-handedly driven up the national rate of inflation.

He said that the government had already begun large-scale importation of eggs and that about 3 million hens were being sent to farms hit by the flu outbreak.

The Mexico City government has sent a refrigerated trailer-truck of eggs into working-class neighborhoods over the last three days, selling kilo packets for less than half the current market price. Several thousand people lined up for about two hours Friday morning to buy eggs from the truck in southeastern Mexico City's Iztacalco neighborhood.

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