Cargo ships carrying eggs arrive in Israel, but they may not be enough

Estimating a shortfall of some 30 million eggs, the government steps up import efforts ahead of the start of Passover on Wednesday evening

An Israeli shops for groceries in Jerusalem on March 18, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
An Israeli shops for groceries in Jerusalem on March 18, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A cargo ship carrying a bulk consignment of eggs from Spain arrived in the Ashdod port on Sunday morning with another expected to arrive on Tuesday, helping to alleviate the nationwide shortage.

The government sent a fleet of trucks to help unload the eggs and is coordinating the effort to restock Israel ahead of the Passover festival, which starts on Wednesday evening, from a special logistics center, Channel 12 reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced in a statement on Friday that Israel will subsidize an emergency airlift of millions of eggs.

The statement blamed the shortage on recent difficulties in importing eggs from Italy and Spain, two of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus. Israel is usually self-sufficient in eggs, but the most recent shortages have been blamed on panic buying and hoarding.

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

Channel 12 reported that 10 cargo planes will also be used to bring in the eggs ahead of Passover, noting that there is an estimated shortage of some 30 million eggs.

For the past two weeks, Israelis have reported widespread egg shortages throughout the country with many supermarkets out of them entirely while others have only been allowing shoppers to purchase one or two dozen at a time or conditioning the sale on purchasing over NIS 150 (approximately $41) in groceries.

A thriving black market in eggs has developed, potentially generating health hazards.

Last Friday, Agriculture Minster Tzachi Hanegbi ordered an increase in imports from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ukraine to restock the supply in Israel, which typically is able to suffice through local coops.

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

The Marker reported that Israelis typically purchase 6 million eggs a day but that this had recently increased to 10 million and that egg consumption usually increases by around 20 percent ahead of Passover.

The demand for eggs is also particularly high during the holiday, where many make considerable use of eggs, particularly at the festive Seder meal.

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

“Unfortunately, if people continue to consume the quantities they consume now, the shortage will continue until Passover eve,” egg reseller M. Lesser told the financial daily, blaming part of the shortage on the government not taking action to up imports earlier.

“If the permit had come three days ago, we probably would have had enough to bring the eggs to Israel before the holiday,” Lesser said.

The Passover Seder plate, as shown in this March 8, 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)

“Around two months ago, we estimated that purchases would rise and that there would be a 10% increase over a normal pre-Passover period, but nothing prepared us for this,” The Marker quoted one Agriculture Ministry official as saying.

“We couldn’t take into account the great hysteria,” he said. “The shortage is not real. Families have simply bought five or six times more than usual.”

Part of the problem is that many Israelis who would otherwise be traveling abroad during the holiday are staying home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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 manager of one grocery store in Beit Shemesh, when contacted by The Times of Israel last week, answered the phone by screaming “no eggs, no eggs” and complaining that she was inundated with calls about the shortage.

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