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Happy hens, sad consumers: Bulgaria battles egg price hikes

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(SOFIA) - Sky-rocketing egg prices in Bulgaria ahead of Easter have angered consumers and prompted the farming ministry Tuesday to warn against speculation and suggest more imports.

"We will not allow speculation with egg prices. Producers must bring the prices down," Farming Minister Miroslav Naydenov said. "We will not interfere with free market principles, but there are cheaper Polish eggs that can be imported."

Egg prices have shot up by about 40 percent over the past week, a rise producers have blamed on the European Union's Welfare of Laying Hens Directive that has banned the use of battery cages since January 1.

Bulgaria and 12 other EU countries came under fire from Brussels in late January for failing to fully meet the new regulations and provide egg-laying hens with at least 750 square centimetres (0.8 square foot) of space "to satisfy their biological and behavioural needs".

Some 2.6 million "happy" hens are currently raised in 119 farms in Bulgaria, according to the country's food agency, but another 341,000 hens await culling as producers have failed to meet the new EU rules.

"Hens get happier while people get unhappier," egg producer Blago Dzhiev told the 24 Hours newspaper Tuesday, blaming the new regulations and expensive feed for the increasing egg prices.

He noted however that "while the poultry happiness rules apply to the whole of the EU, there are no such price hikes in the other countries."

The price hike comes ahead of Easter, when Christian Orthodox Bulgarians observe the tradition of colouring eggs.

"Producers and traders are obviously gouging the market... This is an attempt at speculation," said Naydenov.

Welfare of Laying Hens Directive

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