People planning to make food offerings for the upcoming Chungyuan Festival (中元節), also known as the Ghost Festival, are set to pay a higher price for the ritual than at last year’s celebration, with the prices of many items commonly offered having risen significantly in recent weeks.
The festival falls on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month — Aug. 10 this year — a period known as Ghost Month, during which traditional beliefs hold that spirits and ghosts enter the realm of living, and which this year started on Sunday and runs to Aug. 24.
During this month, some people offer food to appease the spirits and those doing so this year will likely notice that this year’s offerings are more expensive than usual.
The largest price increase among products traditionally given as offerings has been that of eggs, with farm-gate prices rising nearly 25 percent from NT$31.5 per jin (斤, 600g) on Wednesday to NT$34.5 yesterday, the second-highest level recorded so far this year.
The second-biggest price increase in these goods has been in pork, which rose 23.78 percent over the same period, followed by vegetables’ 9.38 percent increase, glutinous rice on 7.5 percent, fruit on 7.45 percent, aquaculture products on 7 percent and duck prices’ nearly 5 percent increase.
The only item commonly used in offerings that has fallen in price during this period is free-range chicken, which has become about 18 percent cheaper.
Chu Ching-cheng (朱慶誠), deputy director of the Council of Agriculture’s Animal Husbandry Department, said the nation consumes an average of 18 million eggs a day, which means that poultry farmers have to produce at least 90,000 to 94,000 boxes of 200 eggs each to keep farm-gate prices below NT$31.5 per jin.
“However, the recent hot weather has affected the appetites of the nation’s chickens, resulting in reduced egg production. Coupled with the approximately 300,000 birds currently molting, the average daily egg production has fallen to a little more than 80,000 boxes at most and thus increased egg prices,” Chu said.
Molting, when chickens shed their feathers, is not conducive to egg-laying and so tends to hinder hens’ egg production.
Turning to pork, Chu said that the market has suffered from an insufficient supply of pork after a large number of piglets were killed earlier this year by an outbreak of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.
“The hog farming industry supplied more than 25,000 and 22,000 pigs on Friday and Saturday respectively, which were sold at a ‘reasonable price range’ of between NT$83.15 and NT$84.17 per kilogram,” Chu said, adding that pork prices were not expected to increase drastically before the Ghost Festival.
However, the price of pork at this time last year was just NT$68.33 per kilogram — 23.8 percent less than the current level.
Meanwhile, wholesale fish prices have increased by about 5.7 percent, with the price of Japanese sea bass — one of the common ceremonial offerings during the festival — rising by a staggering 75 percent, that of Taiwanese tilapia surging 28 percent and milkfish climbing 13.5 percent.
Fisheries Agency Deputy Director-General Tsay Tzu-yaw (蔡日耀) attributed the increase in prices of aquaculture products to a spate of cold fronts earlier this year, which has hurt the production of farmed fish.
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