Following the recent dioxin crisis, 150 poultry farms in Germany are now being investigated by health officials on suspicion of flouting the rules for free-range egg production.
Prosecutors in the northern city of Oldenburg claim to have evidence that, over a number of years, poultry farmers, including organic producers, had systematically violated rules for the production of free range eggs.
To be able to sell products as “free range”, regulations stipulate a minimum of 4m2 for each animal on a poultry farm. It has now emerged that several farmers kept more animals than permitted, but still sold their eggs for a higher price due to their free range status.
The new agriculture minister of Lower Saxony, Christian Meyer of the environmentalist Green party, said that investigations had begun in 2011, but more cases have since come to light. “We suspect that there has been systematic fraud on a large scale and that is a serious crime,” said Meyer.
Records show that controls had long been lacking, with health officials often relying solely on written information submitted by the farmers, instead of actual spot-checks on site. About 150 farms in Lower Saxony and 50 more in other German states are now under scrutiny. In case of wrong-doing, perpetrators could face hefty fines or even prison sentences.