NEW ZEALAND - John Garnett, owner of now-defunct Northland egg producer Forest Hill Farm, has been sentenced to 12 months home detention and 200 hours community service in the Whangarei District Court today for falsely packaging and selling cage eggs as free range or barn-laid eggs.
In June, Mr Garnett pleaded guilty to 20 Crimes Act charges brought by the Commerce Commission.
In sentencing, Judge Harvey said he considered it to be very serious offending and had resulted in the public being severely let down. He indicated that public confidence would be diminished by this deliberate offending over a considerable period of time which was done to deceive customers.
Between April 2010 and November 2011 Mr Garnett and his company packaged cage eggs into cartons labelled as "free range" or "barn-laid" eggs and sold those eggs to retailers. The retailers, including several large supermarkets in Auckland and Northland, believed the contents were genuine and as described on the cartons, so sold them to customers. The Commission estimates that Forest Hill Farm made an additional $376,000 from the sale of over 206,000 dozen falsely labelled eggs with a retail value in excess of $1 million.
"We considered the conduct in this case to be very serious as it was calculated and deliberate. We only became aware of Mr Garnett’s actions after members of the egg producing industry made a complaint to the Commission," said Commerce Commission Consumer Manager Stuart Wallace. "The conduct was also particularly deceptive because it was impossible for the public to detect – you can’t tell the difference between a cage egg and a barn-laid or free range egg by looking at them."
"Consumers who purchased these eggs were subject to a serious breach of trust by the trader. It’s likely that consumers who purchase free range eggs do so as a matter of principle, as they are significantly more expensive than cage eggs. We think consumers are entitled to trust what traders tell them, particularly where the consumer has no way of independently verifying the claims being made."
"Not only have consumers and retailers been misled, but there is also the potential harm caused to other businesses in the industry. Mr Garnett’s actions might have a negative impact on the reputation of all free range egg producers as consumers lose confidence in their products," said Mr Wallace.
"The Commission is pleased by the sentence handed down in the case as it sends a clear message to the business community that those intending to defraud the public will be caught and the penalties can be serious," concluded Mr Wallace.ThePoultrySite News Desk