Tue, Feb 21, 2023 5:00 AM

Egg on our faces




New Zealand ran out of eggs just after Christmas. This wasn’t caused by Covid, supply chains or the weather, which have been behind other recent perishable food shortages and price rises.

No, behind New Zealand’s egg shortage was egg producers’ response to regulation that wasn’t fit for purpose, was changed mid-stream, resulting in unrealistic timeframes and confidence being undermined. Don’t get me wrong. Improving the animal welfare of chickens and all animals is a good thing, just like reducing environmental impact and improving freshwater quality are good things. The point I am making here is the very real and immediate effect of poor regulation and a domino effect on food production, and the stark consumer impact, even in a land of plenty like New Zealand.

The Egg Producers’ Federation says two years ago, there were around 4.2 million egg laying chickens. Today, that figure sits at around 3.5 million, with about 3.8 million birds needed to maintain supply. Why was this? The Egg Producers’ Federation says it was because of the number of producers exiting the industry, thanks to a lack of confidence due not only to the changes in regulation and the costs associated with that but also, due to inflation and increases in feed grain prices – feed being 65 to 70% of the cost of producing an egg. Sounds like a perfect storm and also, a situation not too dissimilar to the one that fruit, and vegetable growers are facing.

That is, poorly thought through and rushed regulation that is not coordinated across Government, coupled with ever increasing production costs, the labour shortage and seemingly never-ending weather that’s not ideal for growing. What impact is this situation having? More and more fruit and vegetable growers are considering making the heart-breaking decision to leave the industry, because it is just too hard. Some growers have already made this decision and are selling up or just mothballing their operations.

The food and fibre sector is fast drowning in uncoordinated, complex and unrealistic regulation. We know and accept we must do better, just like the egg producers knew and accepted. However, the way the current Government is going about change is not the way to do it, just after a pandemic when the world is still in social and economic turmoil.

This year, we hope for more listening by the Government, and swift and practical action in the right places, particularly in the area of Resource Management Act reform. The Government’s current rushed and reactive approach to change is just not right. The only outcome will be more egg on our faces.

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