Food inspectors on government orders have raided large egg producers’ premises to investigate claims of a free-range egg substitution racket in Australia.
The unannounced inspections began late last week, according to the NSW Food Authority, after recent media reports that up to 20 percent of eggs labelled free range could be laid by cage hens.
The Australian Egg Corporation has rejected the claims, but says it supports the strong action taken by the government, headed up by NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald.
Meanwhile, free-range farmers are claiming they were excluded from a crisis meeting convened by the food authority on Monday to discuss the issue.
The meeting was attended by the Australian Egg Corporation and representatives of the state’s largest producer of cage eggs, Pace Farm.
The president of the NSW Free Range Egg Association, Ian Littleton, said he was extremely surprised to learn of the meeting through a third party.
“We were not informed and we were not invited,” said Mr Littleton, producer of Clarendon eggs, which owns 10,000 free-range hens.
Ivy Inwood, chairwoman of the Australian Free Range Egg and Poultry Association, said the association was informed by a cage grower “about an hour before the meeting”.
A statement from Mr Macdonald’s office later insisted that all sectors of the NSW egg industry were represented at the meeting, including free range farmers, and any claim that the meeting was not representative was false.