A farmer says he is appalled that his caged eggs were allegedly passed off as free-range by a company which supplied a major supermarket chain.

Zac Dykstra of Hessels Poultry farm in Foxton said his farm sold caged eggs to wholesaler Eco Foods, which in turn sold them as caged eggs to Palace Poultry.

The Serious Fraud Office yesterday confirmed it was investigating allegations that Palace Poultry had sold millions of caged eggs as free-range.

The Countdown supermarket chain has pulled Palace Poultry eggs from its shelves in response.

Advertisement

Dykstra told the Herald his company was waiting to find out if its eggs had been falsely sold as free-range.

He said he was "appalled" to hear of the allegations and he was "absolutely not" aware the practice had been going on.

A company called Howard Fletcher, trading as Ararimu Free Range Eggs, is associated with the Palace Poultry brand.

The Herald called the home of Terry Fletcher, one of the company's directors, but he was unavailable, according to a man who answered the phone.

The Ararimu farm did not have enough chickens to produce the 8 million eggs they sold annually, so bought more from a wholesaler, Eco Foods Ltd in Bombay.

The Newsroom website reported yesterday that Ararimu was buying caged eggs and passing them off as free-range.

Eco Foods told Newsroom that Fletcher used another name when doing business with them and bought caged eggs, not free-range.

A representative for Countdown said the company believed it had been buying free-range eggs and the Ministry for Primary Industry's Registered Risk Management Programme indicated Palace Poultry met the criteria of its risk management programme as a free-range egg supplier.

"We are in discussions with MPI, who can address questions about how standards are set and verification," Countdown said.

"Food quality and the integrity of the products on our shelves is paramount to us. We have removed all Palace Poultry products from our shelves."

Consumer New Zealand spokeswoman Jessica Wilson said there needed to be more scrutiny either by the retailers which sold the eggs or the Ministry for Primary Industries should carry out certification when it undertook checks on farms.

The Palace Poultry report was the second case in the past few years of eggs allegedly sold as free-range but that were actually caged hen eggs, she said.

MPI said it was not investigating the situation "because there is no evidence to suggest that there are any breaches under the legislation MPI is responsible for regulating".

The SPCA Blue Tick is the only 100 per cent independent accreditation focused on high animal welfare in New Zealand. All SPCA Blue Tick labelled eggs come from farms approved by the SPCA to adhere to strict high welfare standards.

The SPCA Blue Tick is only given to layer hen farms and the organisation does not approve of or certify battery or colony cage systems.

The egg brands with the SPCA Blue Tick are:
Henergy Cage Free
The Natural Free Range Co
Higgins Family Free Range
Uncaged Hens
Pams Cage Free
Bon Appetit
The Ultimate Egg Company
Sungold
Golden Down Organic Free Range
Doug's Free Range Eggs
Simply Cage Free
Ewing Poultry