The Salt
10:36 pm
Mon September 17, 2012

It's No Yolk: Mexicans Cope With Egg Shortage, Price Spikes

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 3:22 pm

There is a new crisis in Mexico. It's not the ongoing drug war or a plunge in the peso: It's eggs.

Mexico is suffering an egg shortage. An outbreak of avian flu this summer, in the heart of the nation's egg-producing region, caused a drastic dip in production and led to huge price increases. While the crisis has hit the country's poor hardest, all Mexicans are hurting for eggs, which are as crucial a part of the Mexican diet as the tortilla.

According to the country's poultry industry, Mexicans eat more eggs, per capita, than anyone else in the world. On average, they eat more than 430 eggs a year, which is almost double U.S. annual consumption.

Diner patron Pedro Valasco isn't surprised. He eats eggs every morning, except Sunday, at a small diner in the heart of Mexico City's historic center.

He says he usually gets huevos rancheros, or huevos with ham or huevos divorciados. The latter, "divorced eggs," are two fried eggs, one topped with red salsa, the other with green, and separated by a wall of refried beans. Valasco says a Mexican breakfast has to have eggs.

Euphenia Rosas, the owner of the small restaurant, says she hasn't raised her prices since egg prices spiked. She says she doesn't want to upset her regular clients, so she just has her waitresses try to gently steer them away from ordering eggs.

Prices jumped when producers were forced this summer to slaughter 11 million hens after an outbreak of avian flu in the central Mexican state of Jalisco. Just last week, officials said the figure was really closer to 20 million. Prices were about 18 to 20 pesos a kilo, or around $1.50 for 18 eggs. Now, they've risen to more than 40 pesos per kilo (about $3). It's a steep price increase for millions of Mexicans who live in extreme poverty.

The egg price spikes and shortages got so rough that President Felipe Calderon took to the airwaves, vowing to crack down on speculators and reduce tariffs on imported eggs.

The first shipments from the U.S. have already arrived at Mexico City's huge wholesale warehouse and are helping to stabilize prices. But egg vendor Adrian Hernandez says his clients don't like the U.S. imports; they tell him the American eggs don't have any flavor, and that the yolks are pale.

Another vendor, Erasmo Hernandez, says he has lost nearly 40 percent of his business since the crisis began. Most people are buying less, and he says there's not much he can do about it.

"Endure, endure," he says, "just like a good Mexican does ... suffer through crises."

Mexicans also like to make a lot of jokes when facing hard times. And there have been a lot of huevos jokes, most circulating on social media. One shows a picture of a kilo of eggs on display at one of Mexico's finer department stores with a sign that reads "Huevos for sale: 6-month payment plans with no interest." Another shows eggs on display at a jewelry store among the diamonds and pearl necklaces.

There are of course much racier jokes making the rounds, given that Mexicans love double entendres, and the fact that huevo is a euphemism for a male body part. But, sadly, we can't repeat any of these.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now, let's come back down to Earth; to Mexico, for a topic that is a little more straightforward - a shortage of eggs. An outbreak of avian flu this summer, in the heart of that nation's egg region, caused a drastic dip in production; which, in turn, drove huge price hikes.

While this crisis has hit the country's poor the hardest, all Mexicans are hurting for eggs, which are as crucial a part of the Mexican diet as tortillas. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Mexicans love eggs. According to the country's Poultry Institute, Mexicans eat more eggs per capita, than anyone else in the world. On average, they eat more than 430 eggs a year. That's almost double U.S. annual consumption.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

KAHN: Pedro Valasco isn't surprised. He eats eggs every morning except Sunday, at this small diner in the heart of Mexico City's historic center.

PEDRO VALASCO: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says he usually orders huevos rancheros, or huevos with ham, or huevos divorciados - divorced eggs. That's two fried eggs; one topped with red salsa, the other with green; and separated by a wall of refried beans. He says a Mexican breakfast has to have eggs.

Since the prices spiked this summer, Euphenia Rosas, the owner of the small restaurant says she hasn't raised her prices.

EUPHENIA ROSAS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: She says she doesn't want to upset her regular clients, and she has her waitresses try and gently steer them away from ordering eggs. Prices immediately jumped this summer, when producers were forced to slaughter 11 million hens after an outbreak of avian flu occurred in the central Mexican state of Jalisco.

Just last week, officials said the figure was really closer to 20 million. Prices were about 18 to 20 pesos a kilo - around a buck-fifty for some 18 eggs. They jumped to more than 40 pesos, or about $3 - a steep hike for millions of Mexicans who live in extreme poverty. The price spikes and shortages got so rough, President Felipe Calderon took to the airwaves.

PRESIDENT FELIPE CALDERON: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He vowed to crack down on speculators, and reduce tariffs on imported eggs. The first shipments from the U.S. have already arrived at Mexico City's huge wholesale warehouse, and are helping stabilize prices.

(SOUNDBITE OF EGG PACKING OPERATION)

KAHN: But egg vendor Adrian Hernandez, who is checking through boxes of eggs for broken ones, says his clients don't like the U.S. imports.

ADRIAN HERNANDEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says they tell him the American eggs don't have any flavor, and that the yolks are pale.

ERASMO HERNANDEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: At another egg stall vendor, Erasmo Hernandez says he's lost nearly 40 percent of his business since the crisis began. Most people are buying less. He says there's not much he can do about it, but...

ERASMO HERNANDEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

(LAUGHTER)

KAHN: Endure, endure, he says - just like a good Mexican does - suffer through crises.

Another thing Mexicans do, when facing hard times, is to make a lot of jokes. And there have been a lot of huevos jokes, most circulating on social media. Like the picture of a kilo of eggs on display at one of Mexico's finer department stores, with a sign that reads: "Huevos For Sale, Six-Month Payment Plan With No Interest." Or a jewelry store, with eggs on display among the diamonds and pearl necklaces.

There are, of course, much racier jokes making the rounds, given Mexicans' love of double-entendre humor. Huevos is a euphemism for a male body part. Sadly, though, I can't repeat any of those jokes. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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