Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) on Facebook on Tuesday apologized for an egg shortage, blaming it on a global outbreak of avian influenza. More than 1 million chickens have been culled in a bid to keep the disease from spreading in Taiwan.
While the COA has been importing breeding chickens to help rectify the egg situation, it takes two to three months before they can start producing eggs, Chen said.
Although Chen said that the government is looking to modernize Taiwan’s poultry industry to increase its resilience against bird flu outbreaks, issues with egg supply and pricing started more than a year ago. In the first two months of last year, domestic production fell by about 1.2 million eggs per day, with the council blaming avian flu and rising production costs, but as the disease is seasonal and peaks in January and February, the council should have been better prepared this year.
However, Chen told a news conference on Thursday that about 80 percent of egg-laying chickens in Taiwan are kept in open-air coops, making production susceptible to inclement weather.
It seems that little was done to rectify problems since last year’s shortage.
Chen said that the situation this year was better than last year, with daily production down by only 500,000 to 800,000. Egg production would ideally be 24 million eggs per day to meet domestic needs, he said.
Production might be down, but the numbers do not seem to indicate that eggs would be as scarce at stores as they have been, which suggests there has been panic buying. Shelves were empty for a few days earlier this month, too, after a planned wholesale price increase for eggs was announced.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, mask production was low, but households were still able to buy them because of the government’s rationing system in which people showed their health card to pick up an allotted number of masks on designated days. Such a system might be excessive for eggs, but the government should mandate per-customer limits on items during production shortages.
A mandate could require that resellers limit purchases to one or two items per person. People could find ways around such limits — by visiting multiple stores or having other household members also buy the item — but it could help to curb panic buying, ensuring that more households can find items at stores.
It might also help if the government were not to announce price increases. It is of little use for people to know about price increases in advance and announcing them only encourages panic buying. Instead, the COA could hold a news conference at the end of each month to announce the reasons for recent price changes.
Another reason to limit daily purchases is that China can wreak havoc by publishing false claims of planned price increases or shortages. This happened during the pandemic, when a report wrongly said that toilet paper would become scarce, leading to panic buying and empty shelves.
Price increases and periodic shortages are inevitable, but the government should limit the effects by making erratic purchasing behavior more difficult.
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