Mexico scrambles for eggs amid shortage

Mexico has the highest-per-capita egg consumption in the world. But ever since an avian flu wiped out 8 million hens, the staple has become more expensive and scarce.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP
A city worker sells eggs at government subsidized prices as people line up outside the city truck in Mexico City, Aug. 24.

When a dozen women gathered for a brunch-hour baby shower over the weekend, the recurring topic wasn’t the mother-to-be but the casserole dish of scrambled eggs.

Exclamations of “what a luxury!” and “how expensive!” could be heard around the table. The price of eggs in Mexico nearly doubled over the  past month after an avian flu wiped out 8 million hens and the price of corn and soy feed jumped 40 percent.

Shortages followed, and the price of eggs skyrocketed in the capital. A kilo of huevos that cost 20 pesos wholesale, or $1.50, shot to nearly 40 pesos, or $3.00. And retail prices went even higher.

From huevos a la Mexicana –  scrambled with tomato, onion, and green chile – to huevos rancheros bathed in salsa atop corn tortillas, eggs are a staple of the Mexican diet. Annual consumption of eggs totaled 22.4 kilos per person, or close to 400 eggs per person in 2011, according to the National Union of Poultry Farmers. That’s a rise of 34 percent from 1994, when consumption stood at 16.7 kilos per person.

(In the US, egg consumption fell by an estimated one-third between the 1950s and 2000, according to the USDA, and currently stands at 250 eggs per person, per year.)

For the women at the brunch – all professionals who own or rent their own apartments – the price increase merits plenty of complaining but no one stopped eating eggs. But the price hike has hurt many other Mexicans and prompted unusual measures from the federal and city governments.

President Felipe Calderón declared that stores found taking advantage of consumers with unwarranted price increases would be fined by the government’s consumer protection agency. The Social Development Ministry began distributing subsidized dozens in rural areas around the country. Meanwhile, Mexico City’s government has dispatched a traveling trailer to provide low-income neighborhoods with eggs at $1.50 per kilo (with a limit of two kilos per buyer) and has already delivered some 23 tons of eggs in the past two weeks..

Teresa Gonzalez runs a small tienda, or corner store, in the Letran Valle neighborhood of Mexico City, where rents are moderate and several government ministries have their headquarters. She said she stopped selling eggs altogether a few weeks ago after shortages began at the city’s massive wholesale market.

Up the street, Patricia Hernandez scrubbed the kitchen after breakfast at La Flor de Azucena, an eatery painted bright orange with a dozen tables inside.

At the wholesale market, “you just can’t find them,” Ms. Hernandez says.

Instead, the cook says the eatery took advantage of a sale at a nearby supermarket and sent an employee scrambling to buy enough eggs to last at least a week.

It’s a good thing, she says, that the breakfast specialty of the house requires no eggs at all: chilaquiles. This dish made up of chopped corn tortillas smothered in salsa and topped with grilled beef sounds tempting enough to make a hungry diner forget about the eggs altogether.

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