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Wednesday, January 21, 1998 Published at 18:01 GMT



UK

Shoppers 'duped' in egg con
image: [ Shoppers have been puzzled by claims that some free-range eggs are from battery hens ]
Shoppers have been puzzled by claims that some free-range eggs are from battery hens

Millions of eggs sold as free-range may be from battery hens, a farming expert has warned.

David Slaughter, Director of the UK Egg Producers' Association (UKEPA), claimed unscrupulous packers have been conning consumers for years by passing battery eggs off as free-range and charging up to 50% more.

Mr Slaughter was speaking after the manager of a Yorkshire egg producing firm was fined for supplying goods under a false trade description. He said the case may be the tip of the iceberg.

Official Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food figures reveal that in October, 1997, 341,000 cases were sold as free-range despite the fact that only 285,000 cases were produced in the UK. Imported eggs may make up some of the shortfall.


[ image: David Slaughter says there is evidence that shoppers are being conned]
David Slaughter says there is evidence that shoppers are being conned
But Mr Slaughter said: "We have evidence that this practice has been going on for years.

"Unscrupulous packers quite simply put battery laid eggs in free-range boxes.

"Packing is done at night and it is extremely easy to swap the eggs. Inspectors only come once every two months. There are quite simply not enough of them."

However, the chairman of UKEPA, Andy Oatley, stressed: "The attention of MAFF was drawn to these anomalies in November by UKEPA.

"Actions were taken immediately to ensure that consumers can have confidence.

"We are confident that checks being carried out by the MAFF egg inspectorate are sufficient to prevent large scale fraud and deception."


[ image: Nothing to worry about: Mark Williams]
Nothing to worry about: Mark Williams
Mark Williams, spokesman for the NFU, said: "Consumers put their trust in both the industry and retailers.

"The product they are buying in the supermarket or corner shop is what it claims to be, free-range eggs.

"We have honest producers and honest packaging stations giving the producers just that."

David Trick, Chairman of the Free Range Egg Producers' Association, said: "If we were aware of any malpractice we wouldn't hesitate to call in the authorities.

"It does nothing for the producers because we have everything to lose, and by that I mean the public's confidence."

Supermarkets moved quickly to reassure consumers that they themselves made rigorous checks on the goods going on to the shelves.


[ image: Bill Hamilton: supermarkets carry out their own checks]
Bill Hamilton: supermarkets carry out their own checks
Bill Hamilton, of Safeway, said: "We regularly send off technologists to the farms unannounced to inspect the farms.

"They make sure the eggs are what the suppliers say they are.

"Because free-range and barn eggs are approved by the RSPCA, their officers, also unannounced, inspect the plants."

Free range eggs, which account for 13% of eggs sold in the UK, are defined by regulations laid down by the European Union.

The chickens must have runs covered in grass and continuous access to open-air rooms.

Farmers must not keep more than 1000 chickens per hectare.

The less intensive production methods means the eggs are on average 46p per dozen more expensive than battery laid eggs.


 





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