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News Section Icon Published 12/03/2010

A businessman who passed off potentially tens of millions of battery hen eggs as free range and sold them to supermarkets across England was jailed for three years on 11 March 2010.

Evidence heard at Worcester Crown Court showed Keith Owen, of Heart of England Eggs Unlimited, had sold "industrial" eggs imported from France and Ireland to other suppliers, who were told that they were British, free range, organic or that they met the RSPCA's Freedom Food welfare standards.

Under the Theft Act in relation to the fraud, Judge Toby Hooper QC Sentencing Owen, said that the defendant had abused the "well-intentioned" trust of the public who had paid extra for better animal welfare.

Delivery drivers realising that they were being forced to wait while eggs they had just delivered were being repackaged as free-range, added to concerns about the sourcing at the firm.

It is estimated that Owen, who was buying caged eggs at around 35p per dozen and selling them on for up to 90p per dozen, may have wrongly passed off around 100 million eggs.

Investigations conducted by the Egg Marketing Inspectorate, which began in 2004, found that Owen was supplying eggs with false paperwork. Tests on eggs were then conducted under ultra-violet light, allowing investigators to see wire-marks which are only left on the shells of caged hens' eggs.

Joyce D'Silva, Director of Public Affairs, Compassion in World Farming, said: "Compassion in World Farming is delighted that a serious fraud involving welfare labelling of eggs has been revealed and the perpetrators brought to justice.

It is vital that consumers can have faith in the current egg labelling system. Only then can they make their concern for animal welfare clear. We are already seeing this as sales of free range eggs increase massively. By ensuring that the 2012 EU ban on the barren battery cage is upheld, from that date consumers can buy eggs safe in the knowledge they are not contributing to the suffering of millions of hens."

Owen, of Dodford, Worcestershire, has been ordered to repay £3million, plus £250,000 in costs. Judge Toby Hooper QC told Owen to settle the confiscation order within 12 months, or face a further six-and-a-half years in prison.

Read more about hen welfare and egg labelling.


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