Con Man Jailed for Selling Fake Organic Eggs

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This is not a yolk. It's something many of us may have thought about: how do we know that the eggs we are buying really are organic or free range? The answer is: we don't.

Last week a man was jailed for selling more than 100 million eggs that were supposedly free range or organic. Instead, it turns out that they were raised in battery cages and sold to Britain's biggest supermarkets under false pretenses over an 18 month period.

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Keith Owens, the former managing director of Heart of England Eggs Unlimited, operated a business as a middleman in the egg industry. He bought eggs from battery farms around Britain, Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, France, Germany and the Netherlands and passed them off as organic or free range. He even bought battery-cage eggs that had been rejected by other egg companies or were for industrial usage only.

The fraud took place during 2004-2006. At that time there was a shortage of free-range eggs in Britain. This was due to the fact the chickens had been affected by hot weather and laid fewer eggs. Many farmers could not afford to invest in free-range facilities so there was great demand. As a result, the price for free range and organic eggs (90p a dozen) was much higher than that of factory farmed eggs (35p a dozen). How could he resist?

New rules came into force in the EU in 2003 that eggs had to be stamped with the country of origin and a code for the method of production. The official British Lion stamp is supposed to be proof that the eggs are British. No problem; he put his own false stamps on the eggs.

According to the Times: "Truck drivers were banned from the loading areas at Owen's plant and would spend hours waiting outside. Eventually, they became suspicious that they were returning the same load of eggs to their depots. The difference was that, instead of being packed in grey pallets, which meant they were cage eggs, they were packed in blue trays for free-range or pink for organic."

At the time, many in the egg industry thought that there were many more British free range and organic eggs being sold in shops than could ever possibly be laid in UK farms.

Once investigations started it was found that he was filing false paper work for egg farms that no longer existed. As for the phony eggs, it turns out that by using ultra-violet lights, marks on the shells could be detected which were the sign that they had been laid in metal cages, not on straw.

His scam was huge: when he shut down his business a number of supermarkets had to start buying free range eggs from abroad.

He was jailed for three years and ordered to pay £3 million.

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