SOME British supermarkets have started to ration customers' purchase of eggs after supplies were disrupted by avian flu as inflation hit a four-decade high at 11.1%.

Britain is facing its largest-ever outbreak of bird flu and is seeing rapid escalation in the number of cases on commercial farms, impacting eggs supply and also raising fears of a shortage of turkeys and chickens for the Christmas table.

Asda the UK's third largest grocer and Lidl are both limiting the number of boxes of eggs customers can buy.

Asda is limiting customers to two boxes of eggs each and Lidl is restricting customers in some stores to three boxes, while Waitrose said it had not introduced any limits but was “continuing to monitor customer demand”.

Other major retailers including Tesco, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer and Co-op reassured customers that they continued to receive good supplies and were not limiting sales.

Since early November, birdkeepers have had to keep their animals housed and away from wildlife to reduce the spread. When there is a confirmed outbreak on a poultry or egg farm, all the birds in the affected area are destroyed, meaning fewer eggs in the supply chain.

The outbreak is compounding existing shortages caused by producers cutting back on output or leaving the industry due to increased costs, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine driving up farmers’ energy bills along with the cost of chicken feed, hens and packaging.

“While avian flu has disrupted the supply of some egg ranges, retailers are experts at managing supply chains and are working hard to minimise impact on customers," Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium which represents British supermarkets, said.

The Herald: EGGS: A triple yolker. Picture: Zoe McLuckie

"Some stores have introduced temporary limits on the number of boxes customers can buy to ensure availability for everyone," he added.

Demand for eggs is also up as consumers seek out cheaper sources of protein to offset soaring food bills.

The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) said the increased cost of producing eggs since Russia's invasion of Ukraine was another factor impacting supply.

Figures showed the average price of a dozen eggs has risen by about 50p in supermarkets but some farmers had only seen a price rise of between 5p and 10p, it said.

In March, BFREPA called on all retailers to increase the price paid to farmers by 40p per dozen.

Yesterday, BFREPA said it had asked Sainsbury’s for an urgent meeting after the retailer confirmed it was stocking eggs imported from Italy.

"Farmers are basically losing money because the price that's being paid in the supermarket isn't being passed back down the supply chain to farmers," a BFREPA spokesman said.

Last week the UK's chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss played down the threat to Christmas poultry supplies from bird flu.

An Asda spokesman said: “We are working hard with our suppliers to resolve the industry challenges which are currently affecting all supermarkets, and to make sure as many customers as possible can buy eggs we have introduced a temporary limit of two boxes per customer.”

It emerged that low income households are being hit hardest as the UK’s annual inflation rate rose to 11.1% in October, after millions of households were hit by higher energy bills.

That’s up from 10.1% in September, as the cost of living crisis escalates, and further above the Bank of England’s target of 2%.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the increase, as the cost of light and heating for homes rose further despite help from the government's energy price guarantee that limits wholesale charges for gas and power.

The Prime Minister said inflation was “the enemy we need to face down” but “difficult decisions” would be required in the Chancellor's autumn statement.

Rishi Sunak said Jeremy Hunt would set out a plan to “grip” inflation in his autumn statement adding: “My absolute number one priority is making sure that we deal with the economic situation that we face at home.

“With more news of inflation today, it’s the number one thing that’s on people’s minds.

“It’s the thing that’s causing most anxiety, opening up bills, seeing the emails come in with rising prices. And that’s why it’s right that we grip it.

Households were hit by the biggest rise in food prices in 45 years.

Food and non-alcoholic beverage prices rose by 16.2% in the 12 months to October 2022, up from 14.5% in September 2022.

That’s the highest since September 1977, the ONS estimates.

But surging energy prices have been the main driver of the cost of living crisis - mostly a consequence of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February that sent the cost of many commodities such as wheat, and the cost of producing them, through the roof.

It is low income households, which spend more of their money on energy and food, that suffered the biggest jump in the cost of living, while high income households were less hit.

ONS said the poorest 10% of households were hit by a 12.5% rise in their living costs – more than the average of 11.1% – while the richest 10% experienced inflation of 9.6%.

The poorest 30% of families all experienced the highest inflation.