Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Home detention for 2.4m fake free-range eggs

John Garnett falsely labelled more than 206,000 dozen eggs. Photo / Northern Advocate
John Garnett falsely labelled more than 206,000 dozen eggs. Photo / Northern Advocate

An egg producer who labelled his cage eggs as free range has been sentenced to home detention, the Commerce Commission says.

John Garnett, owner of now-defunct Northland egg producer Forest Hill Farm, was 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, Garnett pleaded guilty to 20 charges brought by the Commerce Commission.

In sentencing, Judge Duncan Harvey said he considered it to be very serious offending and had resulted in the public being severely let down, Commerce Commission consumer manager Stuart Wallace said.

Judge Harvey 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 Garnett and his company packaged cage eggs into cartons labelled as "free range" or "barn-laid" eggs and sold them to retailers, Mr Wallace said.

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 estimated 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," Mr Wallace said.

"We only became aware of Mr Garnett's actions after members of the egg producing industry made a complaint to the commission.

"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, he said.

It was likely that consumers who purchased free range eggs did so as a matter of principle, as they were 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."

Garnett's offending could have also caused harm to other businesses in the industry, Mr Wallace said.

"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."

- NZ Herald

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