Free Range Claims Land Egg Producers in Court

AUSTRALIA - Consumer watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched court proceedings against two of Australia’s biggest egg producers, claiming they falsely labelled product as "free range".
calendar icon 10 December 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

Two separate actions have been lodged in the federal court against NSW-based Pirovic Enterprises and Western Australia’s Snowdale Holdings, reports The Age.

According to The Age, the court proceedings come as Australia faces a national egg shortage after a bird flu outbreak shut down two poultry farms in central NSW.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims has allegedly accused Snowdale and Pirovic of misleading and deceiving shoppers by making ‘false representations’ on cartons and websites.

Mr Sims said an ACCC investigation cast doubt on the companies’ claims that their eggs were laid by chickens free to roam, finding the hens were housed in crowded barns and they we’re not able to move freely.

"Credence claims such as free range, organic, place of origin or country of origin are all powerful tools for businesses to distinguish their products," Mr Sims said.

"But misleading consumers who pay a premium to purchase such products damages the market and is unfair to competitors."

The court proceedings form part of an ongoing ACCC investigation into the egg industry. In April this year, the ACCC issued substantiation notices to several egg processors, demanding they prove their free range claims.

The ACCC has several criteria to test if eggs are free range, including what time of day and how frequently barns are opened, whether the chickens have been trained to remain indoors and whether the size of the outdoor area is adequate and has shade, food and water available.

Mr Sims said it was not the ACCC’s role to determine which farming practice – free range, barn laid or cage – was appropriate.

‘‘The ACCC’s concern is simply to ensure that the labelling of eggs accurately reflects the particular farming practices of the producer and the expectations of a consumer making choices based on those representations.’’

Pirovic supplies retailers across Australia with products labelled as cage, barn laid, free range and organic free range as well as liquid eggs, while Snowdale is one of Western Australia’s biggest egg producers.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, as well as costs, corrective notices and the implementation of compliance programs from each producer.

The Priovic proceedings are set for 4 February in Sydney, while Snowdale is scheduled for a directions hearing in Perth on 23 January.

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