Swan Valley eggs producer considers appeal against Federal Court ruling on free range eggs

Swan Valley eggs producer considers appeal against Federal Court ruling on free range eggs

A SWAN Valley egg company will consider appealing against a Federal Court ruling that it deceived consumers by labelling

its products as ‘‘free range”.

Snowdale Holdings – the owners of six egg labels in WA, including local producers Swan Valley Egg Farm and Eggs by Ellah – was found guilty of wrongly claiming its eggs were free-range.

It is not the first time the company has come under fire. In 2013, neighbours of the company’s Bennett Springs farm raised concerns about the practices of the farm and its free-range labelling.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took action against Snowdale Holdings, one of the biggest supermarket suppliers in the state, for making misleading and deceptive statements.

The consumer watchdog gave evidence to the Federal Court of hens at Snowdale’s Swan Valley and Carabooda farms not being able to move freely or leave their barns.

The court was told between 2011 and 2013, Snowdale packed eggs into cartons labelled as “free range” and sold them under the brand names Swan Valley Egg Farm and Eggs by Ellah, as well as Swan Valley Egg Co, Carabooda Lovingly Hand Packed free range eggs, Wanneroo Free Range Eggs and Mega Free Range Eggs.

The Federal Court sided with the ACCC and found the company guilty.

Federal Court judge Antony Siopis said the hens were housed in four industrial-sized “barns” on properties in Carabooda and the Swan Valley.

“Each of the sheds at Carabooda had the capacity to house about 18,000 laying hens, while the shed at the Swan Valley farm had the capacity to house about 12,740 laying hens,” Judge Siopis said.

“I find that most hens did not exit (the sheds) and roam freely on an open range on most days.”

A statement from Snowdale denied any wrongdoing and said the company was considering an appeal.

“Snowdale is extremely disappointed with today’s decision,” the statement said.

“It is considering the reasons for the decision and an appeal.

“In any event, the Swan Valley and Carabooda farms which were the subject of the litigation are no longer used by Snowdale for free range egg farming.

“Free range egg farming stopped at those farms in 2013 and 2014.

“The Federal Court’s reasons do not have any bearing on Snowdale’s current free range egg farm located in Gingin.”

It used world-best farming practices and had outdoor ranges stocked at no more than 1500 chickens per hectare, more than six times the forthcoming national free range standard.

West Swan MLA Rita Saffioti supported the verdict handed down by the Federal Court.

“Today’s announcement by ACCC that Snowdale Holdings have been found guilty of misleading public over ‘free-range’ eggs has been welcomed by many in the community,” she said.

“It’s only right for producers to be upfront and transparent about their practices, consumers have the right to know what they are purchasing.

“It has taken many years and a lot of frustration but I am glad the Federal Court has reached the decision it has.”

A penalty will be decided at a future court date.