Eggsistential crisis

Agriculture minister orders egg imports as panicked buyers spark shortage

Officials say Israel should be self-sufficient, but people are stockpiling eggs fearing complete virus lockdown ahead of Passover holiday, where they are used in festive meal

Illustrative: A salesman on his phone while selling eggs at an eggs tand in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda Market, January 27, 2018.
Illustrative: A salesman on his phone while selling eggs at an eggs tand in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda Market, January 27, 2018.

In the US and UK, the coronavirus pandemic sparked toilet paper shortages. In Israel, it’s eggs.

Agriculture Minister Tzachi Hanegbi instructed his office to authorize a surge in egg imports from Europe on Friday as widespread shortages were reported throughout the country.

In many supermarkets the egg shelves were empty, and where some stock remained, customers were limited to 2 dozen per person. One Jerusalem grocery was only allowing eggs to be sold to people buying goods worth more than NIS 150 ($42).

Officials said the shortage was not caused by supply problems, but by panic buying.

Empty shelves at a supermarket in Jerusalem, March 14, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

An Agriculture Ministry official told the Ynet news site that shoppers were buying and hoarding several dozen eggs per person as the government warns that it might have no choice but to order a full shutdown within days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated in recent weeks that even in such a scenario, Israelis will still be allowed to leave their homes to stock up on food and medicine. Evidently, not everyone was reassured.

Hanegbi ordered an increase in imports from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ukraine to re-stock Israel’s supply, but the Agriculture Ministry official who spoke to Ynet said that eggs would likely run low again if Israelis continue to hoard. Local chicken coops can usually supply the country with enough eggs and only now is the government being forced to rely more heavily on foreign imports, the official added.

The issue was raised in National Security Council discussions this week, with senior officials pushing for a re-stocking ahead of the Passover holiday, where many make considerable use of eggs, particularly at the festive seder meal, the Globes business daily reported.

Many serve hard-boiled eggs in salt water at the meal and for others it is a key ingredient of matzah ball soup, another festive favorite.

On social media, people complained about not getting any eggs in online orders and traded tips for egg substitutes. Others advised where eggs had been seen recently, but going from store to store is difficult with current restrictions on movement and travel.

The Passover Seder plate, as shown in this March 8th, 2007 photo, is a special plate containing symbolic foods used by Jews during the Passover Seder. The items include (from top center): horseradish; a shank bone; a mixture of fruit, wine and nuts called haroset; lettuce, parsley and an egg. (AP Photo/Dan Goodman)

The shortages were most widely reported in towns with large ultra-Orthodox populations. Footage from Bnei Brak, outside Tel Aviv, showed locals in long lines outside a store that only sold eggs.

In light of the shortage, prominent ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Pinchas Padwa of Kiryat Gat issued a halachic ruling allowing those who find a spot of blood in an egg after cracking it, to only throw out the contaminated part, rather than tossing the entire egg as typically required in Jewish law.

The Haredim 10 news site reported that Israeli consumers have purchased 60 percent more eggs in the past several days. The website said that lines began forming outside of grocery stores in major cities on Friday morning after rumors swirled that new shipments had come in.

On March 11, government officials told The Times of Israel they believed the country was relatively well-placed to be able to feed its population through the coming months of the coronavirus crisis.

Agriculture Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (L) and Shai Hajaj, chairman of the Regional Councils Center and head of the Merhavim Regional Council in southern Israel, at an emergency confab about food production in the shadow of coronavirus, March 11, 2020. (Courtesy)

No shortages in fresh or dried produce were likely in the next few weeks, they said, although officials said insufficient workers could lead to some shortages of citrus fruit. After Passover, imported fresh fish could also be in short supply.

Israel holds certain emergency food supplies, including sugar, rice, flour, baby food and oil, which are not expected to be needed in the foreseeable future.

The country is more or less self-sufficient in fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs and poultry meat, and has sufficient supplies of beef to see it through the upcoming Passover holidays and on until May, the officials noted at the time.

That day, Hanegbi had attended an emergency meeting with heads of rural regional councils, agricultural organizations, agricultural produce boards and agricultural settlement movements to review food provision in the shadow of the coronavirus.

“I believe that Israeli agriculture will actually prosper out of this crisis,” said Hanegbi, who took over at the ministry in January.

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