Free-range egg lie 'could harm industry'

ABBIE NAPIER AND KELLY DENNETT
Last updated 05:00 06/08/2014
John Garnett
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
FREE-RANGE FAKER: For egg farmer John Garnett appears in the Whangrei District Court to face sentencing on 20 charges of criminal deception relating to the selling of non free range eggs as free range.

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A major egg supplier's deception has raised questions about the free-range egg market and could cause buyers to doubt product labels, consumer advocates say.

Over 18 months North Island egg supplier John Garnett spent nights in his garage relabelling 2.4 million cage eggs as free range. He then sold them to both major New Zealand supermarket chains.

Yesterday he was sentenced to 12 months home detention and 200 hours community work for 20 criminal charges of causing loss by deception over $1000.

Garnett's company, WE Garnett Ltd, went into receivership owing more than $3 million.

Canterbury University marketing expert Ekant Veer said Garnett's actions could affect the egg industry, causing consumers to second-guess their decision to buy free range.

"Deception like this can really harm legitimate free-range sellers as it causes consumers to be more cynical about other farmers, driving people to just purchase [cheaper] caged eggs."

Consumer NZ researcher Jessica Wilson said consumers could not take label claims at face value. Supermarkets needed to do more to ensure products matched their labelling. "We think a lot more could be done and cases like this undermine consumer confidence," she said.

Garnett's mislabelled eggs were sold in Progressive and Foodstuffs supermarkets in Auckland and Northland between April 2010 and November 2011 under the Select, Pams and New Day eggs brands.

Garnett was only the second offender in New Zealand to have criminal charges brought against him by the Commerce Commission. Commission spokesman Stuart Wallace said it pursued criminal charges because Garnett was not in a financial position to pay a big fine.

"This was on a pretty significant scale," Wallace said. "I think consumers would be quite concerned. They don't have any way of knowing if an egg is free range and they're spending extra to buy them.

"Consumers who purchased these eggs were subject to a serious breach of trust by the trader. It's likely that consumers who purchase free-range eggs do so as a matter of principle."

He was concerned other businesses would be affected by Garnett's offending.

Progressive and Foodstuffs said as soon as they were notified about the fraud, all affected eggs were removed from shelves.

Foodstuffs said it was working with Independent Egg Producers Co-op Ltd to ensure all its eggs were audited.

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Countdown said: "We have strict standards for traceability, labelling, animal welfare and auditing". Part of the audit system required suppliers to declare issues with their products.

- The Press

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