The age-old question

Ahmed Shatil Alam finds out the reasons behind the frenzy for eggs among the masses

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Many of us have laughed or made fun of anyone who asked the question: ‘What came first: the chicken or the egg?’. Indeed, it is a classic question, as people have been asking it for thousands of years.

Many years back a group of scientists told us that it was the chicken that appeared first in the world, later came the eggs. But, citing an expert panel including a philosopher, geneticist and chicken farmer of United Kingdom, the reputed London based newspaper The Guardian, in 2006 published a report saying that the egg came first.

In September of 2016, The Time magazine also published a report titled ‘Now You Know: Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?’ where the magazine also wrote that eggs came first.

Despite the questions, the necessity of chickens or eggs cannot be disputed over each other. According to nutritionists and other health experts, while chicken are a valuable source of protein, eggs are the more inexpensive alternatives to protein and nutrition especially for the rural and lower income groups.

However, with the increasing price of eggs, even this source of nutrition is going out of the reach of the masses. Health experts shared with New Age Xtra the various ways through which eggs are important for human health.

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The restaurant business is booming in Bangladesh, where everyday thousands of chicken are needed to make many types of cuisine. But, a recent incident, said to be ‘the first war for eggs’ according to the social media trollers, had occurred last Friday in the capital thus indicating the fact that Bangladeshis are in love with eggs, even more than the chickens!

According to the local poultry industry insiders, the annual per capita chicken consumption in Bangladesh is 3.74 kilogrammes which is lower than the global recommended per capita annual intake of 18-20 kilogrammes. But the consumption rate is increasing in Bangladesh over the years and it could rise up to 8.42 kg annually by 2020, as per the estimation of poultry insiders.

Alike chicken meat consumption, Bangladeshis are also falling behind in egg consumption. According to Food Agricultural Organisation (FAO), at least 104 eggs should be consumed by a person per year. But in Bangladesh most consumes only 75 eggs annually.

And day by day the ‘source of protein for the poor’ is becoming more elusive due to increasing prices. According to traders, due to high demand and a very low production, the prices of each egg currently stands between Taka 8 to Taka 12. This is why the poor and middle-income groups are flailing to buy eggs now.

The daily egg supply stands at 150,000–160,000 pieces a day against country’s demand for 180,000 pieces, according to traders.

Dhaka University Institute of Nutrition and Food Science director professor Nazma Shaheen urged that a person needs to consume an egg daily. She also says, ‘Although egg consumption has slightly increased, it’s production and consumption is still low in our country.’

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The demand for eggs among the masses in Bangladesh can be understood from the incident that occurred around the middle of this month.

On October 13, thousands of people were seen queuing up at the capital’s Khamar Bari area with cooking pots, buckets, shopping bags, cartons and others to get eggs at a very cheap price at an egg selling programme titled ‘Egg Fest’ that was organised by the Bangladesh Poultry Industries Central Council with the Department of Livestock Services. The festival was a part of the World Egg Day celebrations in Bangladesh, along with over 40 other countries simultaneously.

According to the organisers, at the fest, they sold around 20,000 eggs at a discounted price of Taka Three for each egg in order to raise awareness among the people to consume more eggs. But the fest, that attracted people from all over the country, within few minutes of opening, soon turned into a warzone as the people waiting since morning became agitated after allotted eggs were sold out within minutes.

The agitators vandalised the podium and makeshift shops built for the occasion and were chanting ‘Dim Chai, Dim Chai’ (We want eggs). While talking to New Age Xtra, Afroza Islam, a resident of Malibagh area, said, ‘It was like the organisers were mocking those who had turned up… we came and stood in the line since dawn. Within just a few minutes, they claimed that all eggs were sold out!’

Ashik Bin Hossain, a private university student who lives with his friends in a mess in Dhanmondi, shared that they cannot afford fish or meat regularly due to the high prices of these products. Therefore eggs are their main source of protein.

‘Like many other bachelors in Dhaka egg is our only source that covers our protein needs…that is why I had gone to the egg fest to buy some eggs at a discounted price,’ he says.

Pointing out the fact that the organisers were ready to sell eggs only to 223 people at 90 eggs per person, Ashik asks, ‘Then why did they advertise the event in newspapers and call thousands of people there…was this a prank?!’

BPICC media advisor M Sazzad Hossain shared that their initial plan was to sell 100,000 eggs on that day with an aim to provide the underprivileged people a chance to get 90 eggs at a cheap rate, thus meeting a month’s demand for each family. ‘On that day we sold around 20,000 eggs and the rest of the eggs were sent back to the warehouse as soon as the agitation began,’ he says.

Consumers Association of Bangladesh president Golam Rahman shared that it was not the people’s fault as they had gathered there to buy eggs at a cheap rate. ‘We have seen the same trend in western countries, where people throng the stores during events like Black Friday or during any sale,’ he says. He also criticised the organisers of the event for failing to understand the interest that lies among the people for eggs.

He also said that the poultry traders should reduce the overall price along with arranging such promotional campaigns. ‘In so doing, people of Bangladesh can achieve the FAO recommended amount of egg consumption,’ he says.

In this regard, Sazzad says,‘Rich countries like Japan, USA and European Countries have high per capita egg consumption. This is happening as the purchasing capacity of the people from these countries are high.’

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In Bangladesh, some myths related to eggs have also affected its overall consumption.  These myths are-eggs increase the blood cholesterol level and should be avoided, having a lot of eggs a day is bad for health, eating eggs can cause heart disease etc.

The experts and recent scientific reports, however, debunked these myths and said that none of these myths are true for the human body. ‘Cholesterol increases for many reasons in the body,’ says Nazma.

‘Eggs are not responsible for it. In fact egg is needed for people like pregnant women, adolescents, lactating mothers and any persons with vitamin A deficiency,’ she adds.

A recent study of Bangladesh Agricultural University showed that four eggs give 26 gram of protein, which cost Tk 30-40 in the current market. But a 100 gramme Hilsha, goat and beef will give 22, 26 and 25 grams of protein respectively and cost Tk 80, Tk 65 and Tk 50 respectively.

Reflecting on this fact, Nazma also shared that an egg contains 139 Kilo calories of energy where as a 45-50 gram boiler chicken egg contains 14.5 gm protein, 9 gram fat and 3.2 gm cholesterol. She says, ‘Eggs are a good source of Vitamin A, and it contributes toward reducing the chances of having anemia.’

She advised people from unnecessarily restricting themselves from having eggs on a daily basis. ‘Egg consumption can help us fight various diseases,’ she adds.

Department of Livestock and Services director general M Ainul Haque shared that egg is a super-food and the cheapest animal protein in the country. ‘For building a healthy nation and bright future generation, we have to increase the consumption of eggs,’ he says.