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Protein intake in peril for wayward market

Consumers pay as ministries play ping-pong with egg

Commerce ministry for import, MoFL opposes

YASIR WARDAD | August 14, 2023 00:00:00

Overheating egg prices continue burning a hole into consumer wallets but commerce and livestock ministries go their different ways on import for managing what is seen as "manipulated" market.

The ayes from the commerce and the nays from the livestock ministries over market intervention largely upset consumers and rights activists -- at this hour when a dengue 'epidemic' stalking over Bangladesh necessitates protein intake.

Consumers' pain from record egg prices continued to grow as the commerce minister hinted at import of the item while the fisheries and livestock minister reportedly opposed any such move tooth and nail.

Farm brown egg sold at Tk 180 a dozen or Tk 15 a piece Sunday, in a 20-22-percent surge in last two weeks, for reasons cloaked in mystery to many.

The current price of egg touched the previous record which was made in August 2022, according to official statistics.

Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi at a programme Sunday in Dhaka said the government might go for import if egg prices continued with the current trend.

He made a point that it is for the ministry of fisheries and livestock (MoFL) to fix the maximum retail price (MRP) following the production cost of different kinds of eggs.

Meanwhile, MoFL Minister S M Rezaul Karim, after a meeting at the ministry on the day, told newsmen that they calculated maximum production cost of an egg at Tk 10.5 at farm level which should be sold at a maximum rate of Tk 11 by the farmers. And MRP of a farm egg should be Tk 12 by that account.

Asked on import option, he said, "The country has an enough stock of eggs for now and there is no need to source it from abroad."

Consumers Association of Bangladesh vice-president S M Nazer Hossain took exception to such playing of ping-pong with egg while people are paying through their nose. The MoFL minister used 'should' or 'would' -- and that way he "escaped fixing an official MRP of egg", he said.

Without fixing an official rate for eggs, how the minister or any agencies concerned could take legal action against the wrongdoers, he questioned while talking to the FE.

He cited that the state-run agency -- the Directorate of National Consumers Right Protection (DNCRP) -- last year made a report which clearly showed that an oligopoly of leading poultry companies and their allied traders were behind the egg-market volatility in August 2022.

The Directorate then also gave a set of recommendations to keep prices cool, he said.

"We could see neither any action against the oligarchs nor any move to implement DNCRP recommendations," says the consumer-rights campaigner.

Farm economist Prof Golam Hafeez Kennedy thinks import should be the best option for now to have control over the oligopoly on the egg market to ensure protein for the poor at cheaper rate.

"And without any exaggeration, the Department of Livestock Service (DLS) should deliver authentic data on egg production."

He said 40-50 per cent of chicken and egg farms out of 82,000 had closed down since the beginning of the covid-lockdown in March 2020.

Most of the closed farms were yet to start operation amid a rise in operating costs severely.

"Despite the closure, DLS claimed egg production was above 23.4 billion pieces in 2022, which seems overstated," he said.

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