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WA ‘free range’ egg farm deceived shoppers

eggsOne of WA’s biggest egg producers deceived shoppers in labelling its products free range, a court has found, but the company says it may appeal.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission brought the action against Snowdale Holdings over its farms in Carabooda and the Swan Valley in December 2013, after Humane Society International reported a neighbour’s claims.

The federal court of Australia heard most of the chickens did not leave the barns and probably half never got outside because the buildings were overstocked and had only one exit, which was too small.

In his judgment on Wednesday, Justice Antony Siopis said Snowdale’s carton labels gave no indication the hens had to compete with up to 17,000 others before they could even exit the steel sheds.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said shoppers who bought eggs promoted as free range expected the hens that laid them actually went outside.

Humane Society International director Verna Simpson said egg producers such as Snowdale – which got up to twice the price they would have for barn-laid eggs – had made consumers lose confidence in the free range industry.

“So now, they’re going and buying from farmers’ markets or putting chooks in their backyard,” she said.

Greens animal welfare spokeswoman Lynn MacLaren said shoppers were prepared to pay extra for better conditions for chickens but had been duped by misleading labelling.

“Producers in WA have not paid that same respect to chooks that consumers want to pay – that’s the problem,” MacLaren told AAP.

Snowdale’s manager Barry Cocking told reporters he was extremely disappointed.

The company later issued a statement, saying it was considering an appeal and had stopped using the Swan Valley and Carabooda properties for free range egg farming in 2013 and 2014.

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