'Tis the season to paint Easter eggs in Europe. Now children, listen: Handle with care, they break easily — and this year there are not too many about so they are very expensive.
Demand for eggs traditionally reaches its peak around the Easter holiday. This year, the egg industry has been hit by the European Union's new requirements for bigger, more animal-friendly cages for hens. The changes it brings have affected production and, combined with high feed cost, boosted consumer prices.
Ahead of Easter Sunday, on April 8 or 15 depending on the religious denomination, it makes for a costly tradition on a continent where millions have grown up painting or dyeing eggs as children and are now facing economic crisis.
At Warsaw's Hala Mirowska market, the egg sales of Jacek Bechcicki are down as he faces customers grumbling about high prices. "The holiday will be poorer for some of my customers," Bechcicki said.
Pekka Pesonen used to color and dye eggs as a kid in his native Finland. As a rite of spring, "it was a celebration of new life," he remembers. Now, Pesonen is secretary general of a major European farm federation and is seeing how the new EU legislation has put a damper on this Easter season.
"Obviously it has had an impact," he said.
The European Egg Processors Association says that EU-wide production of eggs since the Jan. 1 legislative change has dropped by 10 to 15 percent, or about 200 million eggs a week.
Prices have sometimes tripled on international markets over the past month, peaking at over 2 euros ($2.60) per kilogram, said Philip Van Bosstraeten of Ovobel, an international company which makes equipment for egg processing.
The European Commission said that overall the price for table eggs in early March was 55 percent higher compared to the previous year.