Friday, September 08, 2017

More egg producers to be prosecuted?

The judgement by Federal Court Justice J Siopis in the case of WA egg business,Snowdale Holdings over deceptive conduct in labelling eggs as free range, could open up many more major egg producers to prosecution, despite ridiculous amendments to consumer law approved by Ministers for Consumer Affairs. The eggs which Snowdale sold and promoted as free range eggs during the relevant period came from laying hens that were housed in four industrial sized structures which were referred to during the proceedings as “barns” or “sheds” Snhowdale was fined $750,000 and ordered to pay $300,000 costs. In his judgement, Justice Siopis said:”In my view, the class of consumers to whom the representations on the cartons, website and poster were addressed were purchasers and potential purchasers of eggs from retail stores and supermarkets. I find that the members of that class would include a significant number of persons who were concerned about the welfare of laying hens and the conditions in which they were kept, and who would be motivated by that concern to seek out eggs labelled as “free range eggs” and would be prepared to pay more to buy those eggs. I also find the following to be the relevant context in which the impugned conduct is to be considered. The Snowdale egg cartons with the impugned labels are placed on the shelves in a store or supermarket in a manner visible to consumers. The statement on the Snowdale egg carton labels that the eggs are “free range eggs” is there to differentiate those eggs from the other categories of eggs which are also available for sale to consumers. These categories would include eggs laid by uncaged hens and sold as “cage free” or as “barn laid”. This differentiation between the categories of eggs also finds expression in the premium price that is charged by retailers for free range eggs. Contrary to Snowdale’s submissions, I find that, in that context, an ordinary or reasonable consumer would have regard to the term “free range eggs” on the egg cartons, when making a decision whether to purchase eggs labelled as “free range eggs”, rather than the other available categories of eggs.” He went on to say “The label chosen by Snowdale for the Swan Valley Egg Co carton (Annexure 2), also, reflects a hen roaming freely in a spacious and benign outdoors environment. There is on that label the picture of a single hen roaming in a spacious and luxuriant green field stretching all the way to the horizon, with no other object in sight. 199. There is no suggestion in the images and get up used on any of the Snowdale egg carton labels that the laying hens are, in fact, housed in steel industrial style sheds about 100 m long and that the hens in those sheds would have to compete with another 12,000 or 17,000 other hens, as the case may be, before the hen could even exit the shed to enter an open range.”

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