Just 15 countries have provided 70% of the world’s eggs in 2011. The top 10 countries (see table 1) supplied nearly 65% between them and the five largest on the world scene were responsible for around 55% of all production.

Chart 1 demonstrates the big difference in volumes between the two giants of the sector – China and the USA – and the other members of the top 10. Chart 2 shows the development of world egg production according to number of eggs per year.

In round terms, the current level of global production is about 1,182 billion eggs per year from 6.4 billion laying hens. The world market remains divided approximately 50/50 between white and brown eggs.

The weight of eggs produced annually worldwide now exceeds 64 million metric tons. At an average weight per egg of 60 grams, it would take 16,666 eggs to supply one metric ton. Egg supplies are often quoted in quantities of 12 or dozens, so we can also say that every metric ton represents some 1,389 dozen eggs.

A series of reports compiled by Professor Hans-Wilhelm Windhorst for the International Egg Commission highlights the extraordinary changes in the pattern of world egg production over the past two decades. While the global output of eggs came close to doubling in volume during this period, big differences in development arose between the world regions.

Growth zone in Asia  

The data quoted by Professor Windhorst refer to the years from 1990 to 2008. The data show world egg production grew by more than 72% in that time. But a large part of this was due to the huge, almost 159% rise recorded in Asia.

It is true that Africa’s volume increased by more than 58% and in the Americas, egg production rose by some 54%. By contrast, the contribution from Oceania rose only by 1.2% and egg production in Europe actually decreased – by more than 14%.

These changes have dramatically altered the regional shares of global production. Based on Professor Windhorst’s figures, Asia now accounts for around 59% of the eggs produced worldwide and the Americas contribute more than 20%, with 4% coming from Africa and less than 0.5% from Oceania. But Europe’s share has fallen by almost half since 1990, down to 16.5%.

Equally revealing are the IEC’s calculations of the global market shares represented by the largest producing countries in each region. For Asia this means China, India and Japan, having a combined share of more than 46%, although nearly 38% of that contribution originates from China alone. The three main players in the Americas, being the USA, Brazil and Mexico, account for about 16% of eggs globally. In Europe, the top three of Russia, France and the Ukraine supply about 6.5%, while the African trio of Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt deliver more than 2%. Oceania’s largest are Australia and New Zealand, representing less than 0.5% of world egg production between them.

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Further evidence of the structural change in world egg production appears in table 2, which compares the lists of the top hen-egg producing countries by volume in 1990, 2000 and 2010. The global volume of eggs produced went from little more than 35 million metric tons in 1990, to slightly more than 55 million tons in 2000 to an estimated 69 million tons in 2010, adding more than 1 billion hens to world layer numbers since 2000.

Focus on Europe   

According to the analysis by Professor Windhorst, the volume decrease in Europe between 1990 and 2008 was from 11.6 million metric tons to less than 10 million tons. Most of the initial reduction occurred in Eastern Europe as these countries adjusted to their new political situation, though they have generally increased their production volume since 1996. Western Europe has been producing fewer eggs since 2001 and a decrease has also occurred in some parts of Southern Europe since 2004.

Comparing 2008 volumes with those of 1990, Northern Europe increased by 4.7% and Southern Europe was up by 2.6%. Reductions in the other European countries ranged from 25.4% down in the East to 7.7% lower in the West.

Today, European Union-27 egg production is approximately 6.7 million metric tons per year. The community’s largest egg producers are France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Poland, representing an annual output of 3.86 million tons or 58% of the EU total.

The debate in Europe is how much change will occur in the EU production structure as a result of the ruling that laying hens cannot be kept in conventional or traditional cage housing after January 1, 2012. The only cages permitted will be of an enriched type with more floor area and bigger group sizes.

From 2010 data on 363 million hens, around 165 million, or 45.5%, were kept in traditional cages at that time and only 73 million, or 20%, in enriched cage systems. A representative body for egg packers in Europe, EUWEP, forecast that the proportion of enriched cages would grow to 33% by the start of 2012. But, about 30% of the EU laying flock would still be traditionally caged and therefore non-compliant at that time, according to the forecast.

Individual member states were recognised as differing significantly in this respect. Germany had already prohibited traditional cages for layers since 2010, allowing only Kleingruppenhaltung colony cages. Similar bans were in place in Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden. Compliance by the start of the new EU rule was also predicted for egg production systems used in Denmark, Finland and the U.K.

According to cost reports by Dr. Peter van Horne of Wageningen Univerity in the Netherlands, the change from conventional to enriched housing would involve an 8% increase in the production cost of eggs. Alternative non-cage methods have been estimated to represent cost increases ranging from 22% for barns or aviaries to 25% for free-range.