Scramble to get Easter eggs

2012-03-27 07:19

Prague/Zittau – With Easter just around the corner, German supermarkets near the Czech border are running low on eggs.

Many Czechs are driving those extra few kilometres to the states of Saxony or Bavaria to stock up on eggs, which are not only eaten, but painted and used for decoration during Easter.

The practice of hoarding German eggs is hardly new. But, in a telling difference, it is being driven this time by record prices back home.

“It used to be that only those who worried about quality shopped on the other side of the border,” one of the shoppers told the Czech news agency CTK.

“Today, everyone does it.”

One woman told Czech media that she travels to Bavaria to buy eggs for half of her village.

The Czech rush to buy eggs has prompted German retailers to start rationing them.

“There have been cases of people filling their entire car boot with eggs,” says Christina Stylianou, a spokesperson for the discount shop Netto. The Netto chain is now selling eggs only in standard household quantities – maximum eight packages per customer.

Eggs are being rationed at the Kaufland shop in Zittau as well. “The maximum quantity sold is five packages of 10 eggs each,” a spokesperson said. “That should be enough for all customers.”

On a Saturday in a Lidl market in Goerlitz, there are still a few organic eggs and eggs from free-range hens available. But the huge box that was filled with ordinary eggs selling for 1.09 euros (1.4 dollars) for 10 eggs is empty. “We’ll get more on Monday,” the cashier said.

Things have gotten so bad that Czech mass daily Blesk recently provided tips to readers on how to replace eggs in recipes.

Options include yeast, custard powder or gelatin, depending on the purpose.

The paper also went looking for the most expensive egg in the Czech Republic, and found it in Semily in the north.

A reader said she paid 19.90 koruna (about R8) for a single egg – that is, 81 euro cents.

The shopping trips to Germany to buy eggs resemble a situation that arose with sugar a year ago. High sugar prices in Poland led to the development of outright sugar tourism along the German-Polish border region, prompting several shop chains to limit the sale of the sweet stuff.

On hearing about the panic buying of eggs, Czech President Vaclav Klaus could not help but recall the economy of scarcity during Communism from 1945 to 1989. “People react quickly and a panic ensues,” the economics professor said in his blog.

The eurosceptic president does not blame the phenomenon on the free market, but on orders coming from Brussels.

At the end of last year, a package of 10 eggs in the Czech Republic still cost an affordable 1.06 euros (about R10), on average, according to official statistics.

Today, however, prices range between 2 and 2.80 euros per package. The increase has been caused by an increase of up to 14% in value-added tax on foodstuffs – but also by new European Union rules on laying hens.

The EU banned the conventional caging of hens from the beginning of this year. The order put a stop to most Czech imports from Poland – the country which had supplied most of the republic’s annual imports of some 640 million eggs – which has yet to meet the new EU regulations.

Similar situations have led to egg shortages and higher prices in other EU countries as well.

Farming lobbies suspect that supermarket chains abuse the situation. “They try to obtain very high profit margins,” said Jan Veleba from the Prague agricultural chamber.

Recently, for instance, Czech inspectors confiscated more than 1.2 million Spanish and Polish eggs with damaged shells, or shells which had not been stamped with the compulsory production code.

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