Claims free range egg labels may be false

In Parliament Nationals WA agriculture spokesman Colin de Grussa has raised concerns about the mislabelling of free range eggs.

FREE range egg labelling in WA is in the news again with a parliamentarian saying an egg farmer, who has a farm in Beermullah, appears to be selling more eggs than an independent industry estimate indicates possible.

Speaking under parliamentary privilege, Nationals WA agriculture spokesman Colin de Grussa said there were concerns an operator was using questionable practices to secure contracts with Coles and Woolworths at prices other producers were not able to match.

Mr de Grussa said he welcomed the decision by Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan to seek an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into egg mislabeling in WA.

He said CF Farms, which formerly traded as Snowdale Holdings, marketed its eggs under several brands including The Good Farmer Gingin free range eggs, Beermullah Egg Co, Bloom, Mrs Fischer’s and the pasture eggs brand Hens of the Earth.

In 2017 Snowdale Holdings was fined $750,000 by the ACCC and ordered to pay $300,000 in court costs after falsely labelling some of its products as free range.

“The Aus-Meat accreditation website lists CF Farms as having six operations in WA, including three barn and cage egg–production sites, a pullet-rearing operation, a single egg-grading and packing site and a single free-range egg farm,’’ Mr de Grussa said.

“An independent industry estimate, using best practice, is that its free-range facility could produce 98,000 dozen eggs per week, yet this entity is selling 150,000 dozen free-range eggs through Coles and Woolworths every week.

“That is 52,000 dozen – 600,000 – unexplained eggs each week. “Where are those 600 000 eggs coming from?

“That is over half a million eggs.

“The industry is rightfully concerned about where those eggs are coming from, as we all should be.

“An investigation into this needs to happen quickly, because this matter is not going away.’’

CF Farms owner Barry Cocking did not respond to questions from Yanchep News Online but he was reported in The West Australian on May 18-19 as saying the reason he could produce free range eggs more cheaply than rivals was that his farm was highly modern and efficient.

Commercial Egg Producers Association of WA president Ian Wilson said there was a national voluntary QA system, which if mandated as compulsory in each state, not just WA, that would be a step towards ensuring consumers that all farms and eggs at point of sale were meeting the required standards.

“There would be an increase of costs for those producers who are currently choosing not to be audited, but for on-going food safety and traceability it would be best to be adopted by all farmers,’’ he said.

Mr Wilson said the Commercial Egg Producers Association of WA had not raised concerns about eggs being incorrectly labelled with Coles and Woolworths but some suppliers to the supermarkets had. 

He said the drought in the eastern states had affected grain prices and cut egg farmers’ profits.

“There has been an increase of price of around $100 a tonne, this has played a substantial role in reducing egg farmers profits and ability to expand to meet consumer sentiment towards alternative systems,’’ he said.

“This cost has not been able to be redeemed from supermarkets.’’